June 28, 2016

Corker Opening Statement at Hearing on "Global Efforts to Defeat ISIS"

United States Senate Committee on Foreign Relations
Hearing: Global Efforts to Defeat ISIS

 Tuesday, June 28, 2016 

U.S. Senator Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), Chairman

Opening Statement

Mr. McGurk, I’d like to thank you for again appearing before the committee. You have always been a direct witness, and we thank you for that. I think after most of your testifying, whether classified or in public, most people leave far more informed than they do with most witnesses. Hopefully you’ll live up to that today.

Almost two years after we began military operations, ISIS has lost significant amounts of territory – 47 percent of its territory in Iraq and 20 percent in Syria according to your testimony.

Unfortunately, that progress on the ground creates new threats to our national interest. As our CIA director said this month, as you continue to make gains, ISIS will likely intensify its global terror campaign and that the administration’s “efforts have not reduced the group’s terrorism capability and global reach.”

The New York Times reported recently that 1,200 people outside of Iraq and Syria have been killed in attacks either inspired or coordinated by ISIS, and nearly half of those deaths occurred in attacks targeting Westerners.

In the wake of the recent terrorist attack in Orlando, we expect you to provide and hope you will provide an honest assessment of where the global fight against ISIS is going and address some of the fundamental questions we all have.

In particular, I would like to get your view on what actions the coalition is taking to counter the increased terror threat posed by ISIS in spite of the organization’s losses in Iraq and Syria – again which we herald – and how the coalition plans to actually defeat ISIS militarily.

Some of the other questions I hope you will answer include:

  • Do the Syrian Democratic Forces – and I think there’s a lot of confusion about the various coalitions that are countering Assad but also countering ISIS – which is primarily made up of Kurds with an Arab contingent, have enough people to clear ISIS from northern Syria area?
  • And even if we continue to take back territory back from ISIS, are those gains backed by the political progress necessary to sustain them? Obviously there are rubs between that group and others, rubs between that group and Turkey itself and as we leave it to its own accord, if you will, with these groups taking on ISIS in their own ways and taking on Assad in their own ways, are we really creating something that down the road is going to take us to a political settlement?
  • Or is success on the battlefield leaving behind the same vacuum that led to ISIS in the first place?
  • And finally, how do you reconcile the continued glaring disparity in Syria between a military campaign focused on ISIS and a failing diplomatic process dependent upon a transition from Assad?

I don’t see how the ISIS coalition can be successful while the Syrian civil war continues.

This administration has declared that Assad must go, but it certainly appears as if that position is changing or has changed. I don’t see how what’s left of the political process possibly leads to Assad’s departure. I hope you’ll really help us understand what’s happening behind the scenes there.

I also fear that in spite of continued attacks on our homeland, our military response to ISIS does not adequately reflect the direct nature of this threat to the United States. I think many of us grow frustrated when the administration’s optimistic rhetoric often does not match the results.

Additionally, much of our reliance on proxies to do the fighting is creating a range of diplomatic and political problems that will have ramifications for years to come.

With that, again, I want to thank you for your service to our country. I want to thank you for the way that you talk with all of us in such a direct manner. We look forward to your testimony. 

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