HALIFAX — Senate Armed Services Chairman John McCain, R-Ariz., reiterated his plan for Syria at the Halifax International Security Forum on Saturday, which includes establishing a no-fly zone and putting US boots on the ground at a time when US President-elect Donald Trump's plan remains unknown or nonexistent.
During his campaign, Trump suggested letting the Islamic State destroy President Bashar Assad, then destroying the terrorist group. But he's also said that since Russia is already conducting military operations such as air-strikes, the US should just let Russia take out the Islamic State. McCain, however, accused the Russians of not going after the Islamic State but conducting the killing — through "precision bombings" — of "as many innocent people as they can" in Syria.
So with the current vacancy of a plan, McCain again offered his strategy to stabilize Syria, while blasting the Obama administration for its inaction thus far. McCain has discussed his ideas for a strategy in recent months.
"We need a no-fly zone and we can enforce not an entire no-fly zone over the entire country, but a no-fly zone which would be protective and it would take some American troops on the ground and we can succeed in at least protecting some of the refugees and we can use it as a place to arm and train and equip modern forces. It can be done," McCain said.
Additionally, McCain said taking Rakka in Syria is strategically key, which would take about a 100,000 force, comprised of 10,000 American troops and 90,000 troops from allies and other nations.
"We could go into Rakka and take it in a very short time," McCain said. As long as Rakka remains the Islamic State’s caliphate, it will continue to be a center for terrorism to develop chemical weapons, recruit more members, and export "young men into the refugee flow to commit acts of terror in places all over the world," he said.
The plan seems to take a page from the 2007 Iraq surge of US troops, which McCain said allowed for the defeat of Al-Qaeda; a military campaign that left Iraq primed to be a peaceful and democratic country. But, Al-Qaeda moved to Syria, according to McCain, and the American withdrawal from Iraq presented an opportunity for the Islamic State to move back in and take hold of territory.
"You can defeat militarily and that is not the only answer, but first you have to defeat militarily," McCain said. Then economic, social and political issues can be addressed, he added.
"We should help them with Marshall plans once we have defeated them," McCain said. "We need to work as hard as we can to improve the economies and lives of the people in these countries so that they will have an opportunity besides becoming radicalized and going out and taking their own lives in order to take the lives of others."
The Marshall Plan was an initiative that provided funding and strategies to help boost economies of Western European countries after World War II.
McCain called the lack of effort to help Syria "horrendous," adding, "America has abdicated its leadership responsibilities and we are now complicit in one of the greatest acts of genocide certainly in modern times."
Jen Judson is an award-winning journalist covering land warfare for Defense News. She has also worked for Politico and Inside Defense. She holds a Master of Science degree in journalism from Boston University and a Bachelor of Arts degree from Kenyon College.