US hopefuls split on sending ground troops to Middle East

Atlanta: Republican presidential candidates are split on whether the US should send ground troops to the Middle East to combat Islamic State forces.

And most of those who would commit troops offer few details on their plans.

“I don’t see anybody on our side coming up with a robust plan that truly would destroy” the Islamic State militants, Sen. Lindsey Graham yesterday said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”

Graham stands out among Republicans hawks for his specifics. He has called for 20,000 American troops divided between Iraq and Syria.

Yet several other Republicans want to try, or at least not to get mired in the details beyond casting President Barack Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as weak and feckless.

Clinton is Democrats’ 2016 favorite. Businessman Donald Trump, who has taken an early lead in most surveys of likely Republican primary voters, backed into a commitment of ground troops yesterday during a wide-ranging interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

Trump said to cripple Islamic State group he would “take away their wealth” by reclaiming oil fields the group has commandeered. When told that would take ground troops, Trump replied, “That’s OK.”

The US has about 3,500 troops working as trainers and advisers to Iraqi forces, but those Americans are not intended to engage in direct combat.

Carly Fiorina, the former Hewlett-Packard CEO, said, “I disagree that we’re at that point where we need to put tens of thousands of boots on the ground.”

Other Republican candidates have avoided detailed policy pronouncements on the Middle East.

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush has called for the removal of Syrian President Bashar Assad and said more ground troops would be needed, but he didn’t give a number.

Trump blames Bush’s brother, President George W. Bush, for invading Iraq in 2003.

Sen. Rand Paul is an outlier in the Republican field with his argument that the U.S. Should reduce its international footprint. But even Paul has declined to rule out using military force.

Outgoing Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno cautioned last week in his final Pentagon press conference that US forces alone will not defeat Islamic State militants in the long-term.

Odierno said the US initially could overwhelm the militants. But, he added, “We’d probably be right back where we are today six months later.