Maj. Gen. Paul Funk of the 1st Infantry Division told me a few weeks ago that I needed to see the “Big Red One” in action in Iraq. Two weeks later I was there. It had been 18 months since a senator had been on the ground.
During my four days in Kuwait and Iraq, my priority was to visit our troops, especially soldiers at Camp Buehring, Kuwait, as well as in Baghdad and Irbil. I thanked them for their sacrifice, which becomes even more meaningful at the holidays.
I want all Kansans to know that the performance of our 1st Infantry Division – under Funk’s leadership – is most impressive.
The mission has three phases, all related to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), a terrorist group growing in the Middle East.
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First, disrupt ISIL. Second, degrade ISIL. And finally, defeat ISIL.
I do find fault with President Obama, who I believe has failed to define the mission and long-term objectives to the American people. Thankfully, I found that our commanders have filled in the gaps and can report there is progress.
They know that our mission truly is advisory. The only way ISIL is going to be defeated is if Iraqi forces defeat it. Likewise, the United States is one of 60 coalition partners fighting ISIL.
In the war rooms I visited, I was impressed to see Iraqis taking the lead role, and it was encouraging to see Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds working together. While the coalition, led by the U.S, is providing intelligence and targeting for our airpower, the boots on the ground are the Iraqi Security Forces and Kurdish fighting forces, the Peshmerga.
I also visited with many new Iraqi leaders. In my meetings with Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, Defense Minister Khalid al-Obeidi and Kurdish Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani, I stressed the need to step on the gas – that Funk and the trainers are ready.
Fortunately, there appears to be a renewed commitment on the part of the Iraqis to make this mission their own and to make it a success. During my visit, I witnessed ISIL’s biggest defeat to date. Under the command of Brig. Gen. Erik Kurilla, the Peshmerga successfully took back Sinjar Mountain, home to thousands of refugees from ISIL-dominated territory. The attack sent ISIL terrorists fleeing back to Syria.
I am also encouraged by what Abadi has been able to accomplish in his first 100 days in office. Corruption seems to be diminishing, reconciliation between Shiites and Sunnis is a primary focus, and real leaders are taking command of the Iraqi Security Forces.
I know all Kansans and the Congress are war-weary, but I have no question that our military leadership can handle the mission. However, if the president wants the support of Congress, he needs to do a better job of explaining what he’s asking us to support.
ISIL has faced strong setbacks, but there will be new threats tomorrow. As a result of this firsthand look, I am guardedly optimistic that the Iraqis can take the necessary steps to stabilize their country.
We can be very proud that the men and women of the Big Red One are doing everything they can to make this possible.
Pat Roberts is a Republican U.S. senator from Kansas.