Policy

Defense Secretary Pressed on Plan to Defeat ISIS After Brussels

Carter suggests shifting money to fight the terrorist group

Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter (left) and  Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph F. Dunford, Jr., address the threat from the Islamic State. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

House Armed Services Chairman Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, used Tuesday’s terrorist attacks in Brussels to blast the administration for failing to submit a plan for fighting the Islamic State, as required in the fiscal 2016 defense authorization bill.  

The law (PL 114-92), enacted late last year, demanded the administration send Congress the details of its strategy against the terrorist organization by Feb. 15.  

“We have received nothing and there is no indication that any such strategy is on its way,” Thornberry said at a hearing with defense leaders on the administration’s budget request for fiscal 2017.  

The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the deadly attacks at the Brussels airport and a metro station that left 31 dead and scores injured.  

During the hearing, Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter said the strategy document, which involves input from the Defense Department and other agencies, is “imminent.”  

The administration, Carter said, is accelerating efforts to defeat the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, which he called “the parent tumor of the cancer.” But he acknowledged that the United States and allies need to destroy the expanding terrorist group in places it has “metastasized around the world.”  

Carter also called on the four congressional defense committees to approve a March 17 request to shift fiscal 2016 funds to cover military efforts against the Islamic State.  

The reprogramming request, which all four committees must sign off on, would transfer $300 million from the Counterterrorism Partnership Fund to other accounts to fund efforts to train and provide equipment to vetted members of the Syrian opposition.  

The funding transfer is required to provide appropriate leadership and other training and to provide vetted Syrian opposition groups and individuals with "supplies and equipment that will allow them to remain operationally effective in degrading, dismantling and ultimately defeating the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL),” according to a summary of the reprogramming obtained by CQ.  

Thornberry, however, signaled that he would be loath to approve the request until there is “some sort of a coherent direction on how we are going to beat these guys.”  

On Tuesday’s attacks, Carter said the Pentagon is continuing to monitor developments, including ensuring all U.S. personnel and citizens are accounted for, and is ready to provide assistance.  

“In the face of these acts of terrorism, the United States stands in strong solidarity with our ally, Belgium,” he told the panel.  

Sitting alongside Carter, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr. tied the attacks to the fight against the Islamic State.  

"This morning is another reminder there is a long fight ahead," Dunford said.  

For his part, Thornberry suggested that Tuesday’s attacks only underscored the problems with constrained budgets at the Defense Department.  

“The world is growing more dangerous, we have cut our military too much, and I believe it is up to the political leadership in this country to take the action necessary to enable our service men and women to defend American lives and American interests,” he said. “The men and women who serve and the nation deserve better."  

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