The veteran general nominated to lead the Marine Corps characterized the U.S. campaign against Islamic State terrorists in Iraq and Syria as a "stalemate," contradicting previous assertions from the Obama administration.
Fox News reported that, while undergoing questioning from Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain (R., Ariz.), Lt. Gen. Robert Neller said of the U.S.-led air campaign against IS (also known as ISIL or ISIS) in the region, "I believe they are in a stalemate right now."
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Indeed, the CIA and other U.S. intelligence agencies concluded last week that the administration’s bomb campaign to scale back IS launched last year yielded no perceivable degradation of the terrorist organization’s forces. An unnamed defense official, who was not authorized to speak publicly on the matter, said that U.S. intelligence has "seen no meaningful degradation in their numbers."
However, other Obama administration officials have spread a different narrative. On Monday, White House press secretary Josh Earnest touted the "significant progress in terms of rolling back ISIL gains inside of Iraq." President Obama spoke in early July of the "progress" the United States has witnessed after hitting IS in Iraq and Syria with thousands of air strikes.
Moreover, John Allen, the retired Marine general tasked with developing the campaign against IS, said the terrorist group "is losing" at the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado later in July.
Yet, other lawmakers and officials have adopted even more negative opinions than Neller. Also at the event in Colorado, FBI director James Comey called IS a "the threat that we’re worrying about in the homeland most of all." McCain has also repeatedly said, "ISIS is winning."
U.S. officials estimate that IS remains between 20,000 and 30,000 fighters strong, the same number of bodies the terrorist organization had recruited in September of last year at the start of the administration’s bomb campaign. Pentagon spokesman Capt. Jeff Davis did not confirm or dispute the figures at a press briefing Tuesday.
Despite describing the U.S. effort against IS as a "stalemate," Neller insisted that "we’re doing what we need to do right now," explaining that ultimately Iraqi fighters are the ones who must reclaim the territory lost to the Islamic State.
"General, they can't do it themselves, we know that, the Iraqis cannot do it themselves," McCain told him. "That is why they are losing."
While military officials have trained 11,000 individuals in the Iraqi security forces to combat IS, only 60 Syrian insurgents have received appropriate training and have been vetted by the United States.
Meanwhile, the Islamic State has exhibited signs of transforming into a functional state, issuing identification cards and dispersing fishing guidelines in the areas of Syria and Iraq that it controls. Former deputy director of the CIA John E. McLaughlin recently admitted that the idea of IS eventually becoming a legitimate state with working airports and passports is "not inconceivable."
During remarks in early July, Obama insisted that there are "no current plans" to send more U.S. troops overseas to fight IS.