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McConnell: Only 'Local Boots on the Ground' Fighting in Iraq

McConnell doesn't support sending U.S. troops back into combat in Iraq. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says despite the failings of the Iraqi army, he won't be among those calling for a return of U.S. troops to the battlefield.  

"I think all we can do at this point is provide the kind of training that should've been done on an ongoing basis for the Iraqi military, which especially seems to be throwing down its weapons and running," McConnell told WGTK radio in Louisville.  

"This is a country that's a pretty big mess, and it could've been avoided, at least in Iraq, with a ... residual force. That didn't happen, and now we're left with trying to help as best we can," the Kentucky Republican said. "But, in the end, the boots on the ground there are going to have to be local boots on the ground, not ours, to engage in combat to take these areas of Iraq back."  

McConnell did not specify a number of U.S. personnel that should be involved in training the local forces, but his goals for a U.S. mission seem significantly more narrow than those of hawks like Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.  

Back in February, before launching his 2016 presidential bid, Graham told the CBS program "Face the Nation" he thought roughly 10,000 U.S. soldiers would be needed to operate with a regional force "to go into Syria and take back territory from ISIL."  

During the Monday interview, McConnell was critical of President Barack Obama on both the Iraq and Syria fronts, saying that the president wavered when it appeared there may have been an opportunity to oust Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad. As for Iraq, McConnell blamed Iraq's troubles on the lack of a residual force, like the U.S. forces that have remained based in prior conflict zones around the globe.  

"The first big mistake the president made was not leaving behind a residual force in Iraq. You know, we did that in Germany after World War II, in Japan. In Korea after the Korean War. Our military leaders recommended that we leave behind a force in Iraq. Not for combat, but for training and counter-terrorism," said McConnell.  

Also Monday, President Barack Obama said he wanted a strategy to ramp up training of Iraqi troops.  

"We don't yet have a complete strategy," he told reporters in Germany.  

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