Military News

Washington congressional delegation – minus one – supports plan to help Syrian rebels

All but one member of Washington state’s congressional delegation this week voted to support the Obama administration’s plan to train and equip moderate Syrian rebels for their fight against the Assad regime and Islamic State militants.

Democratic Rep. Jim McDermott of Seattle was the only member of the delegation to oppose President Barack Obama’s proposal when the House voted on the measure Wednesday.

Other members from the delegation said they favored taking more direct action against the Islamic State, the extremist Sunni Muslim organization that has seized vast territory in Syria and Iraq while carrying out brutal attacks against minorities and Shiite Muslims.

“Whether it’s by threatening the stability of the Iraqi government, genocidal action against religious minorities, or the murder of American journalists, it is clear that ISIL terrorists represent a direct threat to the region and a growing threat to the United States,” said Rep. Derek Kilmer, D-Gig Harbor.

The House passed the bill by a 273-156 vote, and the Senate followed on Thursday in approving the bill by a 78-22 margin. It follows stepped-up military action against the Islamic State since its fighters seized Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, in June.

The number of American troops in Iraq is climbing toward 1,600 as the military carries out Obama’s request to send more advisers to the region. They are expected to train Iraqi forces and protect U.S. interests as American forces assist the Iraqi military with air strikes against Islamic State targets.

That effort does not have any obvious impacts for Washington state’s military bases. Presumably, air mobility squadrons from Joint Base Lewis-McChord’s 62nd Airlift Wing will deliver supplies to U.S. forces in Iraq the next time they deploy to the Middle East.

Special Forces soldiers stationed at JBLM could be called on to advise Iraqi forces at some point, and certain conventional soldiers could be chosen for similar missions in small numbers. A JBLM artillery battalion and artillery brigade headquarters are currently deployed in the region.

In the past, prolonged Middle East unrest has led to extended deployments for Washington-based Navy ships.

Several of Washington state’s lawmakers stressed that they do not want the military effort against the Islamic State to include U.S. troops in direct combat in Iraq or Syria.

“I voted today to allow the president to begin implement his comprehensive plan to aggressively fight the brutal terrorist group ISIL without sending American combat troops back to the region,” Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., said Thursday.

Rep. Adam Smith, D-Bellevue, said the Obama administration should model its plan for Syria on the success it has achieved in turning back the Islamic State from ground it seized in Iraq’s northern Kurdish provinces. In that region, U.S. air strikes against militant fighters helped Iraqi and Kurdish forces retake ground.

Several members stressed in written statements that they oppose sending U.S. ground troops to Syria and would press the Obama administration to refrain from sending military personnel to the country.

“There is a formula for success, and ISIL can be defeated,” said Smith, the ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee. “We must continue and expand our support in Iraq and we must develop moderate Syrian partners who can take the fight to ISIL on the ground.”

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Spokane, the state’s senior Republic lawmaker, voted for the bill but criticized Obama for not outlining a more specific plan to defeat the Islamic State in Syria.

“The American people need to see a plan articulated with a strategy to dismantle and destroy,” she said.