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Lawmakers question request to authorize military force against ISIS

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WASHINGTON – House members had plenty of questions Tuesday about President Barack Obama’s request for use of military force against ISIS, particularly his insistence that congressional approval would not authorize “enduring offensive ground combat operations.”

Members of the House Armed Services Committee alternated between concerns that the request was too narrow and that the U.S. allies in the region may not be up to the task of preserving whatever gains are made by the U.S.

“As someone who served in Iraq, I want to see Iraq succeed but I also don’t want to see ourselves sucked in to another mess in Iraq where we have to go and clean up again and again,” Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Phoenix, said before the hearing.

The president is asking Congress to authorize the use of military force against the Islamic State militants who are waging a brutal campaign – which has included highly publicized beheadings of captives – in parts of Iraq and Syria.

The authorization would let the U.S. take “necessary and appropriate” military action against ISIS and any associated forces. It is limited to an initial term of three years, with required regular reports to Congress, and specifically prohibits enduring offensive ground combat.

Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, the chairman of the committee, questioned the ambiguity of the term “enduring,” while others wondered if limits on ground troops would hinder the effectiveness of military action in the effort.

Rep. Trent Franks, R-Glendale, asked the witnesses – Defense Undersecretary Christine Wormuth and Army Gen. Lloyd Austin – point-blank for their “best military assessment” on the possibility of defeating ISIS in three years without enduring ground troops. Austin, the commander of the U.S. Central Command, said he is “confident.”

“We want a lasting solution not just a short-term military solution,” Austin said.

But Iraq War veteran Rep. Seth Moulton, D-Mass., questioned the military’s ability to achieve a lasting solution.

“As someone who’s fought during the surge, it’s not very comforting to hear,” he said. “That we’re just going to leave it up to the Iraqis, that ultimately we’re just going to pass it off to them and maybe they’ll succeed and maybe they won’t.”

Another veteran, Rep. Martha McSally, R-Tucson, who flew missions above Iraq and Afghanistan, worried about “arbitrary” limitations on boots on the ground, noting that those troops are vital to search-and-rescue operations for downed pilots.

Democratic Reps. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii and Beto O’Rourke of Texas challenged the witnesses on how the U.S. planned to deal with what the lawmakers called a flawed federal government in Iraq and the segmented and often-oppressed populations in Iraq and Syria.

Gabbard, who is also an Iraq veteran, reminded the witnesses that it was the Iraqi government’s failure to include some populations that gave ISIS the “oxygen” it needed to grow.

Gallego said he is also concerned that Iraqia have not “created a shared, unified government.”

Wormuth admitted that the political environment in the area was “problematic” but said that the U.S. would continue to work with the central government located in Baghdad.

Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C., expressed frustration that the U.S. is in this position again.

“How in the world are we going to continue to expand and send our troops around the world and try to take care of everybody’s problems if they won’t step up and take care of it themselves?” Jones asked.

Austin assured him that the U.S. should not and would not be the central power in the fight.

“We will enable their efforts with our air power, with our advising, in any way we can, but at the end of the day the Iraqis have to do this themselves,” he said.