WASHINGTON, DC—Representative Eliot L. Engel, the leading Democrat on the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, today delivered the following remarks at a committee hearing on the Administration’s strategy to confront ISIS:
“Mr. Chairman, thank you for calling this important hearing.
“General Allen, General Fantini, General Olson, welcome. We are delighted that we have such a distinguished array of Generals to really speak with us this morning. Thank you for appearing here today, and thank you for your tireless service to our country.
“The main purpose of this hearing is to get an update on the progress of the anti-ISIS coalition and the significant challenges that remain.
“But we must also address the elephant in the room, in my opinion: the need for a new authorization for the use of military force, or AUMF.
“As I’ve said again and again, this Committee and this Congress have an important role to play in our foreign policy. I believe that’s the case with our negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program. And the same must hold true when it comes to our effort against ISIS. Congress needs to play its part. And I will resist any attempt to marginalize Congress for fulfilling its constitutional role.
“By passing a new AUMF, our service members—the brave men and women in uniform risking their lives against this enemy—would feel the full support of Congress.
“Our coalition partners would see that the American government is united in our commitment to degrade and destroy this enemy.
“Congress would reassert the important role we are empowered to play, by the constitution. And we, as lawmakers, would show that Congress doesn’t shrink away from the tough decisions. Because if we do, we’re sending a message that Congress may put itself on the sideline the next time a crisis erupts, and the time after that, and the time after that. That’s simply unacceptable.
“The language sent to us by the President with the AUMF isn’t perfect, but I believe it’s a good start. So let’s work together to craft a bipartisan AUMF. Let’s tailor it to the needs of our troops and this mission. Because everything we’re dealing with today is taking place under the shadow of this vital unfinished business.
“I know that we’re talking a lot about Iran, these past days, is an impending agreement, the deadline for one, is rapidly approaching. And talk about an AUMF seems to have faded in the background, but I really believe that that’s something that can not fade into the background. It’s something that we have to tackle, and this is the committee to do so, and we will do so.
“Generals: we look to you for leadership in clearly explaining our strategy to degrade and defeat ISIS to this Committee and to the American people.
“In my view, the international Coalition has made some real progress: conducting military operations and advising our partners on the ground, working to alleviate the humanitarian crisis, cutting off funding sources for ISIS, taking steps to stem the flow of foreign fighters, and pushing back against the toxic message of ISIS propaganda.
“This strategy is making a real difference. ISIS is losing ground. Much of its top leadership has been taken out. Obviously we still have much more to do. Thanks to our training, Iraqi security forces are improving so they can better deal with the ISIS threat. Regional partners are playing a bigger and bigger role. And the coalition is holding steady.
“But we’re still facing a lot of challenges, and I’d like to touch on some of those today.
“First of all, I’m concerned about Iran’s growing foothold in Iraq. The Iran-guided operation in Tikrit has faltered, but Shia militants—including some fighters trained by Iran’s Quds force—are playing a more influential role in Iraq. What are their intentions? And how do our own plans take these elements into account?
“Secondly, I’m struggling to see the path forward in Syria. I think you know that I view our efforts to aid the opposition as too little, too late, and far too slow. Two and three years ago I was yelling that we should be aiding and abetting and providing weapons to the Free Syria Army. What’s happened now, three years later, is these forces are barely hanging on. They have been focused on fighting the Assad regime, and that would be hard enough—especially with inadequate weapons and training. But they also have to face off against ISIS and other battle-hardened groups like the Nusra Front. They need more training and equipment as quickly as we can get it to them.
“And lastly, what more can we do to support the Syrian people? More than 200,000 Syrians have already perished in this war. Nearly ten million have been driven from their homes. This crisis has spilled over borders into Turkey, Iraq, Jordan, and Lebanon. This is a humanitarian catastrophe, Assad has blood on his hands and the Syrian people desperately need relief.
“So, gentlemen, I look forward to covering these issues with you. I thank you again for your courageous service. And I say again that it’s past time for Congress to give you the support you need for this vital mission.
“Thank you, Mr. Chairman.”