tv U.S. House of Representatives CSPAN September 16, 2015 10:00am-12:01pm EDT
to live in the shadow of someone else who existed. host: so much more to talk about. adam keiper, thank you for your time. "new atlantis." you can check it out on their website. we take you live to the armed services committee. there holding a hearing to counter the islamic state in ira q. the goal is right. many of us agree with the military strategy that seeks to empower local forces in iraq and syria to combat isil. with u.s. and coalition training, equipment, assistance and airpower. one year into this campaign, it seems impossible to assert that isil is losing and that we are winning. and if you're not winning in this kind of warfare you are losing. stalemate is not success.
it is accurate that we have conducted thousands of air strikes against isil, trucks and fighters, bunkers and buildings. this conjures the illusion of progress but what effect has that had? isil has lost some territory, mainly to kurdish and shiite forces, but isis has consolidated the core territories and expanded its control in syria it continues to dominate sunni arab areas in both iraq and syria. it maintains control of key cities like mosul, fallujah and ramadi and efforts to retake those territories appear to have stalled entirely. meanwhile, isil is expanding globally. it's now operating in afghanistan, yemen, libya and egypt and other radical islamic groups like boko haram in nigeria and al-shabaab in somalia have pledged allegiance to isil. this apparent success of isil
has allowed them to radicalize and group. the c.i.a. estimates of the manpower remains constant despite u.s. air strikes which suggests they are either wrong to begin with or that isil is replacing its losses in real time. neither is good. indeed this committee is disturbed by recent whistleblower allegations that officials at central command skewed intelligence assessments to paint an overly positive picture of conditions on the ground. we are currently investigating these allegations which we take with the utmost seriousness. the department of defense should as well, and if true, those responsible must be held accountable. ultimately, it's not -- ultimately, it's not that we are doing nothing to counter isil. it's that there is no compelling reason to believe that anything we are currently doing will be sufficient to achieve our strategic objective of degreagged and ultimately destroying isil.
the united states and our partners do not have the initiative. our enemies do. they're capitalizing on our inadequate policy to maintain and enhance their initiative as they have for the past four years. indeed, the situation on the ground is now taking yet another dramatic turn for the worse as several recent events made clear. recent published reports state that u.s. officials believe that isil is using mustard gas and may even be manufacturing these chemical weapons by themselves. whether isil is manufacturing chemical weapons themselves or acquired from former or current stocks maintained by bashar assad, this is a potential nightmare scenario for our partners in the middle east and for us. at the same time, the united states effort to train and equip syrian rebels to fight isil is clearly and unfortunately failing. the goal was 3,000 fighters in the first year. instead, this program has trained and equipped only 54
fighters, some of whom were killed or captured by al qaeda as soon as they returned to syria. this program the administration promised would result in a viable indigenous ground force in veeria has yet to produce any significant effects on the battlefield. to be sure, the fixation with perfect vetting, both in the congress and the administration, is contributing to this failure. but far worse has been the administration's requirement that this new syrian force could only fight isil, not the assad regime, which has killed far more syrians than isil, and the president's refusal until just weeks ago to authorize the close air support and other military assistance to ensure our syrian partners would be successful. unfortunately, these contradictions were clear from the beginning, and many members of this committee warned the administration to change course. their failure to do so has squandered a lot of time, money and worst of all, credibility.
with this committee to continue supporting this program we need some major changes. into this vacuum has now stepped vladimir putin. as in ukraine and elsewhere, he perceives the administration's inaction and caution as weakness and he's taking advantage. according to media reports, putin has deployed strike aircraft, t-90 tanks, how witsers, russian marines and housing for up to 1,500 personnel in military bases in western syria. this as an expansion of russian power in the middle east that we have not seen in four decades. and it will allow putin to further prop up assad, fuel his indiscriminant killing machine, play king maker in any transition, undermine u.s. goals, policy and operations and ultimately prolong this horrific conflict. the main beneficiary will be isil. many of us have said from the
beginning, from the beginning that the conflict in syria would not be contained and for four years we have seen evidence of that. the hundreds of thousands dead, the millions of driven displaced people, the use of chemical weapons and the rise of the worst terrorist army in the world. now we are seeing the latest manifestation of this failed policy, the flood of people pouring out of the middle east that has led to the worst refugee crisis in europe since orld war ii. the administration has agreed to accept 10,000 refugees in the coming year. that's a noble effort. the refugees will keep coming. isil will grow stronger, the middle east will dissend into further chaos and u.s. national security interests will be put at greater risks . for four years we have been told that there is no military solution to this conflict.
as if anyone believes there is. and there are no good options. if anybody -- as if anybody believes there are, that our influence is limited, as if that has not always been the case. that we will not succeed overnight, as if our problem is one of time, not policy. and that we cannot solve every problem in the middle east, as if that absolves us of our responsibility to make the situation better where we can. this is not a question of our capacity or our capabilities or our options. we have options between doing nothing and evading iraq and syria. many members of this committee suggested such options for years now, and they are still relevant. we need to put an end to assad's ability to use airpower against his people, especially e use of horrific barrel bombs, shoot down planes that
drop barrel bombs that slaughter innocent civilians. it's one of the leading killers of innocent civilians. we need to help establish safe zones inside syria where refugees and displaced people can be secure. we need forward air controllers to add prevision and lethality to our air campaign. we need to make significant changes in order to improve and rapidly expand our training of syrian and iraqi forces. and while no one believes that we need to invade iraq or syria, the fact is we will likely need additional u.s. special forces and military advisors to be successful. i hope our witnesses will not repeat our desired policy goals and a list of tactical achievements and talk about, quote, nine lines of effort. we have heard all of that before. but we have yet to hear a theory of victory. i hope to hear one today. senator preed. senator reed: thank you. h and general ut
austin. this committee is to -- through the extreme ideological and brutal tactics, including the reported development and use of chemical wemsweps, isil has gained control over portions of syria and iraq erasing the borders theen -- between these countries. they have sleighed women and girls and carried out attacks on ethnic minorities and broadcast it on social media to escape the violence of isil, the assad regime and millions have been displaced or fled utside iraq and syria this has added to the sense of urgency regarding the need to secure authority in the region. the military campaign against isil remains complex with no easy answers. while the concolings pushed
some out of the area, including he north, retaking of tikrit by iraqi security forces and along sections of turkey, the self-described islamic state continues to hold key cities. the iraq security forces counteroffenses to take back ramadi has struggled in the last few months. t the same time iranian backed shiia militias have stalled. and despite the recent setbacks, they are consolidating controls in the areas in both syria and iraq. the agreement between the united states and turkey, expanding access of land and airbases and creating an isil-free zone is an important step forward. however, the deployments of russia of additional military forces to bases in syria under the guise of assisting and countering isil efforts appears
to be an effort by putin to prop up the assad regime, further complicating efforts to have security in syria this has raised concerns of whether our efforts against isil is sufficient. the military lines of effort is the progress the u.s. train and equip programs for coalition-backed forces in both iraq and syria. while the u.s.-led air campaign has had an effect in degrading isil, effective local forces that can take full advantage seized ground from isil and hold it are essential to success. in iraq, operations to take anbar require getting a significant number of sunnis in the forces and equipping them to resist the isil threat. i'm concerned by reports that sunni recruitments have fallen short of its targets and the government of iraq has been slow of arming sunni forces. in sear yarks the train and equip program, according to public reports, has experienced a variety of setbacks.
we'll be interested in your assessment of this effort. quite interested. and general, i also hope you'll address what you believe might be done to intensify our military operations that counter the isil threat. for example, would you support a more active role for u.s. military personnel in facilitating the engagement of sunni tribes or providing advisors to build institutional capacity or accompanying iraqi security forces on a limitted bases when direct contact with enemy is not anticipated? the isil problem is not geographically bounded by syria and iraq, and indeed, as the chairman pointed out, isil have appeared in yemen, afghanistan, egypt, likia, the horn of africa and elsewhere. general, i'm interested in your assessment of the group's growth in the region and how centcom is contributed to transregional efforts to combat the group. ultimately, the success of the counterisil effort will depend on a number of nonmilitary factors also, including reforms
are implemented and result in a iraqi government that is more inclusive and responsive to the concerns of the sunnis, kurds, religious minorities and other factions in iraq society. whether the international coalition, including states in the region, can counter isil's propaganda, financing and the spread of its extreme ideology and whether a political solution can be found for the crisis in syria these issues are the primary responsibility of the departments rather than the department of defense. but i hope they're integral in countering the isil threat. general, i also hope that you will also, to the extent possible, given the ongoing review by the inspector general, address questions involving intelligence assessments with respect to isil. it's important that we wait for the inspector general's investigation before making a judgment, but i have no doubt you will take such allegations as seriously as we do in congress and we take them very seriously. like senator mccain, i hope the committee will be kept apprised
and be active in terms of the recommendations. let me thank both witnesses for their testimony this morning. thank you, mr. chairman. senator mccain: ms. warmuth. ms. wormuth: thank you, chairman mccain and ranking member reed as well as members of the committee. thank you for the opportunity to be here today to give you an update on the military aspects of our counterisil campaign. it's also a pleasure, as always, to be here with general austin. we work very closely together every day on a range of issues so it's nice to be with him today. as the chairman said it's been over a year since the united states and a coalition of nations began the military campaign against isil. when we began that campaign about a year ago, isil was pushing into kurdish territory in northern iraq and pushing towards baghdad. over the past 12 months, isil has lost territory in both syria and iraq, despite advances its made in ramadi and pamira. progress has been slow but
steady. there are definitely been setbacks in the past year. while not 10 feet tall, isil remains a thinking enemy that is evolving to conditions on the battlefield. our train and equip programs in iraq and syria have faced challenges. in iraq, the pace of our program has moved more slowly than we'd like, and in syria, the stringent vetting criteria we're using at the outset of the program has contributed to smaller numbers than we'd hoped for. as the military campaign continues in both countries, we expect there will continue to be challenges clearing and holding territory. but we've also seen progress in the past year. you're all familiar with the successful operations to take back kurdish territory in iraq to defeat isil in kobani and more recently to retake tikrit as well as other successful engagements. on the political front, prime minister abaddy continues to demonstrate the resolve necessary to confront isil and he's striving to manage what is a very difficult political landscape in baghdad.
in syria, we've seen some opportunities emerge that we didn't envision a year ago, particularly in the northern part of the country where syrian kurds working with syrian arabs has successfully pressured isil along the turkish border. the president outlined a whole central gee to degrade and ultimately defeat isil and he emphasized it would be a multiyear campaign. when secretary carter was here in july he outlined the nine lines of effort to comprise our strategy so i won't go over them in detail but it will take more than the military campaign to be successful. we also need to dry up isil's finances. we need to stop the flow of foreign fighters into iraq and syria, in particular, protect the united states from potential attacks from isil, provide humanitarian assistance in areas that we are taking back from isil and find a way to more effectively counter isil's very successful messaging campaign. as secretary carter said to the committee in july, the
administration believes we have the right strategy in place. we're now focused on implementing the strategy as effectively as possible. this is a very much an interagency effort with increasingly better synchronization across all of the departments and agencies that are involved. and in fact, secretary carter and secretary kerry had been meeting together with their senior staffs to monitor and identify issues in the campaign, and they're meeting tomorrow with nctc to focus in particular on foreign fighters. d.o.d., as you know, is responsible for two of the lines of effort inside the strategy. denying isil safe haven and building partner capacity. so i'd like to speak briefly to those areas and general austin will also elaborate. the campaign has degraded isil's capacity, has removed some of the key leaders and enabled gains by iraq and syria the i.s.f. has regained control of tikrit from isil earlier
this year and sunni kurds have taken the keyboarder time which severed their key line of communication and supply and put isil on the defensive and also put more pressure on its strong hold, raka in syria. these examples demonstrate how when we have credible ground forces and we support them with our airpower isil can suffer. we're also working hard to build the partner forces on the ground. since we began our efforts, we now trained and equipped more than six brigades and provide training to more than 13,000 iraqi personnel. iraqi army, and we have more in the pipeline. as secretary carter said in jurblings however, training for the iraqi army has been slowed by a lack of trainees coming into the training sites. over the last several weeks, we've had better participation from iraqi units at the training sites and iraq has actually expanded the pool of universities that are ell
available for -- eligible for training. they're participating more directly in the fight in areas such as ramadi. early indications is they're performing well in combat missions. as you know they face a difficult fight ahead and strong leadership of these forces is going to be essential. ur forces on the ground at al-assad airbase are advising in anbar province to train the trainer type of assistance with the iraqi security forces. and in terms of equipping these sunni tribal fighters, we recently delivered a balance talon's worth of equipment to iraqi officials working with us on those two airbases to dwibt the equipment to fighters. we're also overseeing the government of iraq's equipment to these sunni tribal fighters from these bases. so through these kinds of efforts we now have more than 4,000 sunni tribal fighters in anbar province. we're also still in the early stages of our train and equip
program in syria. this effort, i think it's important to highlight, is just one element of what we're trying to do in the larger campaign in syria which includes an increasing number of air strikes as well as supporting partner forces on the ground, like the syrian kurds, the y.p.g., sunni arabs and other local forces to try to put fresh on isil in northeastern syria. these efforts have substantially rolled isil back in this area, and have had significant impacts on isil's freedom of movement and supply lines. as of september 15, our train and equip program, the specific program we have, we're now currently training more than 100 fighters and we have additional recruits in the pipeline. this number is definitely smaller than we'd hope for in part because as the chairman and others noted, we put our trainees through a very rigorous screening process to meet standards that are appropriately laid out in u.s. law. we closely aligned all of our efforts in all of these areas
with our 62-country coalition and as an example of how we're doing that, turkey's recent decision to provide us access to bases has beenen abled us to expand the fight and is strengthening the cohesion of our efforts in syria. before turning to general austin, i want to address russia's involvement in syria. we're closely tracking russia's recent efforts to deploy adilt diggsal military equipment and personnel to syria and we're in close touch to our partners and allies with these developments. both russia and iran have supported the assad regime which has systematicically murdered its own people. what we need in syria urgently is a political solution to the conflicts through a transition away from assad. and any actions that empower the regime to escalate the conflict are unwelcomed and would be destabilizing and counterproductive. this is clearly a very difficult challenge that we face.
we're not going to solve it quickly, but we have the right components in place to advance our objectives and we're dynamically adjusting our campaign to a rapidly changing battlefield. achieving a lasting defeat against isil is going to require a continued commitment, strong leadership from us and the global coalition as well as commitment and sacrifice from local forces in iraq and syria. thank you. general austin: goorm, chairman mccain, senator reed and distinguished members of the committee. i want to thank you for this opportunity to appear here today to provide a current update on a progress achieved over the past year in support of the ongoing campaign to counter isil or da'ish in iraq and syria. i'm pleased to appear here this morning alongside christine wormuth. she's widely respected throughout the department of defense and we're most grateful to her for her continued and strong support of our efforts at centcom. i'll join christine in making a few brief opening comments and
then we're prepared to answer your questions. before providing a brief update on a counter isil campaign, i did want to quickly address an important issue. as the chairman mentioned, there is an ongoing dodd i.g. investigation, looking into -- d.o.d. i.g. investigation looking into allegations by the centcom director. it would be premature and inappropriate for me to discuss this matter. what i will say is i welcome the d.o.d. i.g.'s oversight and once the investigation is complete, based upon the findings, you can be assured that i will take appropriate actions. again, i cannot speak to the specifics of the allegations. however, i would like to take this opportunity to provide some clarity with respect to how we use intelligence products and the critical work that we do. because of the nature of our mission at centcom, we do have and rely on a robust
intelligence enterprise to support the command. there are over 1,200 seasoned intelligence professionals that make up that enterprise, and they do exceptional work. and as the commander, i greatly value and seek their input and insights. i use the assessments that they provide me together with the inputs that i receive from a variety of sources that include my commanders on the ground who i talk to almost every single day, and i consider this broad range of inputs when making my decisions. you know, there's been a lot of speculation in the media about the allegations made to the d.o.d. i.g. and one in particular i believe should be addressed and corrected for the record. some have expressed concern that centcom intelligence reports were sent directly to the president. this is not accurate. as the office of the director of national intelligence put out to the media last week, and i quote, none of the combatant commands are permitted to engage directly in the president's daily brief process. rather, reports are produced by
the combantant commands and funneled through the d.i.a. to ensure that all substantive deliberations and final contributions are appropriately coordinated, end of quote. again, i cannot comment on a specific allegations. we will need to wait for the d.o.d. i.g. to complete its investigation, but did i want to provide this additional clarification. ladies and gentlemen, with respect to the ongoing operations in iraq and syria today, despite some slow movement at the tactical level, we continue to make progress across the battle space in support of the broader u.s. government strategy to degrade and ultimately defeat isil. key to the enduring success of the military campaign is sustained pressure on isil, both from the air and on the ground. and the approach that we adopted relies on indigenous forces to create and sustain this pressure while cushing the flow of foreign fighters and cutting off the ability to
rearm itself. in recent months, iraq's security forces have experienced some setbacks and this is to be expected in the early stages of a fight as complex as this one. but overall, coalition air strikes and our advise and assist in building partner capacity efforts, the iraqis continue to make progress. n northern iraq, the kurdish pershmerger have performed well and in northeast syria are achieving substantial effects. in fact over the past several months they've retaken more than 17,000 square kilometers from terrain from the enemy and it will create significant opportunities that if pursued could prove devastating for the enemy. the intent of the military campaign is to degrade and ultimately defeat the enemy through our own actions and by enabling and supporting the efforts of our coalition partners and the indigenous forces in iraq and syria. again, progress is being made
and this is evidence by what we see happening in the air and on the ground in both countries. i would also point out that the progress reflects in large part the many contributions made by our coalition partners. the 60-plus coalition nation represents the strength of this campaign and we main grateful for their strong support. success in this campaign will require the continued support of our coalition partners along with support of other elements of the u.s. government and the international community. more importantly, it will require that the iraqis do what is necessary to address their political challenges, and national reconciliation is absolutely essential to the success in the counter-isil campaign. we said at the outset that military campaign to counter isil would take time and it will take time. and we should expect there will be occasional setbacks along the way, particularly in the early stages. we also need to keep in mind
that we are supporting and enabling this effort, and our partners, not us, are in the lead. it is taking a bit longer to get things done but it must be this way if we are to achieve lasting and positive effects. fortunately, amiss the many challenges that exist in iraq and syria, we find opportunities and we remain confident that our actions in pursuit of these opportunities will continue to produce positive results in the coming dation. mr. chairman, senator reed, members of the committee, i want to thank you, once again, for the strong support that you show to our service members, our civilians and their families. they are truly exceptional, and they are making important and lasting contributions to the overall effort. again, we appreciate your support and i look forward to answering your questions. senator mccain: thank you. i've been a member of this committee for nearly 30 years and i never heard testimony like this. never.
one week ago, chairman dempsey said that the fight against isil is practically stalemated with no gains on either side so you and the outgoing joint chiefs of staffs have a different view of what the situation is. with all this progress that you're citing -- and how long do you think it's going to take for us to defeat isil and to restore stability in iraq and syria? general austin: sir, it will take years. if i may -- senator kaine: -- senator mccain: years. general austin: if i may speak to the chairman's comments. we did talk about this issue. when i went back and took a look at what he said, he also said, isil's future is increasingly dim as more tions join the anti-isil effort. although it is practically
stalemated with no dramatic gains on either side, isil will move at the speed of its governance, not at the speed of its military capability. and i agree with the chairman, sir, on the issue of there haven't been any dramatic gains on either side. senator mccain: dramatic. that's different than tactically stalemated, general. that's what chairman dempsey and chairman dunford said. so there's clearly a disconnect between your view and that of our outgoing and incoming chairman of the joint chiefs of staff. really in your view, everything should remain as it is. for example, do you think we should have a no-fly zone in syria? eneral austin: that's a policy decision. senator mccain: would you recommend a no-fly zone in syria? general austin: i would not recommend it at this point, sir. senator mccain: not at this
point. four years later. would you recommend setting up a buffer zone in syria where these refugees might come and be protected from the slaughter of bashar assad? general austin: it would take a ground support. senator mccain: would you support a buffer zone which would protect these people who are being barrel bombed by assad? general austin: i would not recommend it at this point in time. senator mccain: we won't be able to shoot down bashar assad's aircraft as they slaughter innocent men, women and children, is that correct? we don't have the capability to protect them? general austin: we clearly have capability, yes, sir, we do. senator mccain: but you would not recommend such action? general austin: i would not recommend a buffer zone at this point, sir. senator mccain: so you're saying everything is fine as we see hundreds of thousands of refugees leave and flood europe, as we're seeing now
250,000 syrians slaughtered, as you see more and more iranian control of the shiia militia that are only ones that are really doing the fighting, besides the peshmerga. i have never seen a hearing that is as divorced from the reality of every outside expert and what you are saying. does the massive flow of refugees from syria have any effect on what you think we should be doing in syria? general austin: sir, i want to be clear that i believe that tragedy and ible this is a thing that the entire international community is going to have to continue to ork together on. there's always -- we would hope that as as these refugees
continue to be disadvantaged that we see more countries joining in to assist. senator mccain: so would you not support a policy that would help these refugees that are being slaughtered by bashar assad by his barrel bombs? general austin: it's always in our best interest to protect civilians. again, i would not recommend a buffer zone at this point in time. senator mccain: so everything is really going well? general austin: no, sir, that's not -- senator mccain: well, if things are not going well and if we've had, quote, setbacks and the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff say it's basically stalemated and you think everything is going well pursuing the strategy and tactics on the ground that we are, general austin, i respectfully disagree. i respectfully, fundamentally disagree. this is an abject failure. the refugees are the result of it. this is a result of leaving
iraq and you were there at the meeting when maliki told senator graham and i if the others agreed he would agree to keep a residual force there. and we never gave him the forces that we wanted to leave behind, which set and train the departure of u.s. completely from iraq and set the table for the catastrophe that we are seeing. this is, as i see, i have not attended a hearing that is so grossly distorted as the view of a terrible and tragic situation as i've seen from the witnesses. and by the way, senator graham and i predicted every single thing that is happening now. and i predict unless we do something different it will remain, as general dempsey said, stalemated. which means tragedy. senator reed. senator reed: well, thank you very much, mr. chairman. both madam secretary and general austin, about a year
ago or more there was real concern that essentially baghdad could fall to isil. that they were virtually unstoppable. at this point, your assessment of the security, at least for baghdad, has that been improved? general austin: sir, it has been greatly improved. senator reed: and going forward now, one of the fundamental issues is, and i think it's related to the comments both ou and general dempsey made, who is -- who will have the advantage going forward in terms of the use of time, isil or iraqi forces supported by the united states? what's your view on that? general austin: sir, i think clearly it's the iraqi forces supported by not only the united states but the 60-plus nation coalition. senator reed: now, one of the things that has been suggested but not only suggested but
recommended strongly to the iraqi government is they create a national guard unit, sunni units as well as others but formally aligned with the government and that legislation is bogged down in their parliament, is that accurate? general austin: that's correct, sir. senator reed: so we are -- we could do more essentially if the iraqis were willing to make some changes in terms of their policies. for example, we could at least contemplate the use of advises with these national guard -- iraqi national guard units to be brokers in terms of distributing equipment as well as tactical advice, is that something that's possible if we get cooperation? general austin: it's clearly possible, yes, sir. senator reed: is that something you would consider? general austin: yes, sir, it is. senator reed: one of the factors, too, and this is a constant source of inquiry is that in fact recently the iraqi parliament, i think, rendered a
scathing report about prime minister maliki's leadership or lack of leadership effectively sort of suggesting that what ever he said couldn't be trusted, is that your estimate of his role leading up to this crisis, in fact, over many years? general austin: sir, what we saw from the former prime minister sin creasingly sectarian behavior and a number of bad decisions that led to the atrophy of his security forces. senator reed: and in fact, according to this report, as i've seen in the media, they attributed mostly of the blame of the disintegration of the security forces at maliki's doorstep, no one else's, is that at least accurate for the feeling in iraq? general austin: i'd say it's primarily his responsibility, and those he appointed in key leader positions enabled that as well. senator reed: in terms of your
campaign plan, the sense i have is that you have tried to exploit the area where we have the most interest against isil and that's iraq while maintaining as much pressure as possible in syria. is that the general outline of the campaign plan so that we would expect and frankly i agree, i don't think anyone's seen the progress they'd like to see but the first progress would essentially be in iraq and then lead to isil in syria, is that accurate? general austin: it is, sir. in iraq there is a government for us to work with essentially. there were some forces for us to begin to work with. and, of course, we had access to things that could -- that could enable us to get our -- to get the work done. our shaping operations in syria enabled our work in iraq and
are still enabling it. and as we get increasing resources, we're able to and ase the tempo in syria so i think we'll have greater effects going forward. senator reed: and just finally, any general comments, because one of the recent developments is the fact that turkey now is allowing operations. they seem to be much more cooperative in an operationally sense. what do you expect in the next, say, six months that will translate to on the ground? general austin: i think it will translate to a lot more pressure on key areas in syria, sir, like the city of raka, which has long been an isil strong hold. and so because of that access, we'll have the ability to increase the pace and focus on key places in syria.
senator reed: thank you, chairman. >> thank you, mr. chairman. when secretary carter was here in july he testified there were only about 60 syrian fighters that had been trained in our train and equip program and reasserted. senator fischer: we heard about those when they were reasserted back in syria. can you tell us how many trained fighters remains? general austin: it's a small number. the ones that are in the fight is -- we're talking four or five. senator fischer: a "new york times" report on september 6 indicated that among the lessons learned from that experience was that these fighters should be returned to
syria in larger numbers than the 60. obviously larger than the four or five that are there. do you agree with that? general austin: i agree with that, senator. whenever that's possible, it is in our best interest to make sure that we have an element that can protect itself and also can go in and combine efforts with other elements that are on the ground. senator fischer: how do you plan to achieve that? how are you going to increase the number of fighters when we're looking at the really tough security screening processes that are in place now, how are we going to achieve that? and how long will that take? and you mentioned earlier about increasing resources. i took that to mean increasing the number of fighters that you would place in syria and the effect they would have. so what's the time period we're looking at here? how are you going to do it? because i don't think it's been
at all successful yet. general austin: and i certainly agree with you. this -- the new syrian force program has gotten off to a slow start. but i think it's important to remember that this element is designed to be a complement to all the other things that we're doing. so we're going to use and we are using every tool that we have available to us in our inventory. our strategy is, our approach is to utilize indigenous forces to complement our work from the air on the ground. as we -- senator fischer: if i could interrupt you on that point, and i'd like to get back to your answer. when you say to complement the work on the ground with air strikes, did i hear -- did i just hear you say that? general austin: the -- they have to work in tandem. senator fischer: so if they're going to work in tandem, there is a new article out today, are
we going to change strategy? it says the united states is drawing up a new plan that will send these trained fighters into syria that are going to help direct air strikes. is that report correct? general austin: i would just say that, ma'am, we'll continue to look at the best ways to -- the best means to employ these forces as we go forward. we'll capitalize on lessons learned. and, again, it is really about the full complement of indigenous forces that we have available to work with. as we mentioned earlier, the y.p. ymplet g., or the syrian kurds and some arabs have done tremendous work in northeast syria and they have pushed isil back from the border. there are currently somewhere 40 kilometers or so north of isil's capital city of raqqa
and they'll continue to pressure isis. so the new syrian force is added to that effort. senator fischer: so with the fighters we're training and equipping, is it still the goal to have about 12,000 of them there, is that still the goal? what's the expectation, then, for them? general austin: well, we certainly won't at the pace we're going won't reach the goal that we had initially established for ourselves. but the overall goal is to make sure we have enough mass to be able to get work done on the ground. and whether it's y.p.g. elements or other elements they're able to help us, we can still achieve and are achieving the same effects. -- not aspirationally aspirational. we are actually doing it today. senator fischer: has the work changed on the ground that you're asking for these fighters?
general austin: we're looking at the best means to employ them and we will do, ma'am, what you would expect us to do and make adjustments as opportunities present themselves. senator fischer: thank you, sir. senator mccain: anxious to avoid another damaging setback for the training effort the white house and pentagon are looking at attaching small number of fighters in northern syria tone sure the rebels are better protected on the battlefield by more numerous troops. can you confirm or deny that hat option is being looked at? ms. wormuth: senator, we are reviewing the way forward. senator mccain: i'm asking if that option is being considered? ms. wormuth: we are looking at a range of options and -- senator mccain: i'm not going to -- i'm asking you a direct question. is the pentagon looking at that
option, yes or no? ms. wormuth: we are looking at that option as well as others. senator mccain: thank you very much. senator nelson. senator nelson: general, it's my understanding that general dempsey recently said if the u.s. really seize control of the campaign against isis we could speed up isil's defeat but that it would come at a great cost to our service members and that another group with another name and ideology would just be back in a couple of years. isn't that what you understand general dempsey to have said and that you have reaffirmed that here today? general austin: yes, sir, it is. i think it's important that the people in the country and in and egion take ownership work to put in place lasting solutions. and if we don't do that we will
be back in another two or three years. senator nelson: and because of that campaign against isis, it must be won by our coalition partners and the iraqis, not just us. general austin: that's correct, sir. senator nelson: would you care to read that statement again for clarity in your response to the chairman's question that general dempsey had said in its full context? eneral austin: yes, sir. what the chairman said is isil's future is increasingly dim as more nations join the anti-isil effort. he further stated that although the fight right now is tactically stalemated with no dramatic gains on either side,
iraq will move at the speed of its governance and not at the speed of its military capability. senator nelson: mr. chairman, i have the transcript here in front of the committee. i would like to reinsert this transmit of general dempsey with your permission. senator mccain: absolutely. nd along with that we will include the assessments by senator keane, general petraeus, the architect of the surge and all of those who observed this debacle. senator nelson: of course. general, give us your assessment that russia is building up the military base and sending soldiers and weapons into syria to prop up assad. , the guise ht say
of fighting isis. general austin: sir, we're witnessing a buildup of forces in syria by russia. as you know, they have been there all along but they are increasing their footprint. what they stated is that they want to focus on helping to counter isil, as i understand t. that's left to be seen. as you know russia is not very transparent so we really don't know what their true intentions are. but the introduction of potential introduction of additional capability and operations, utilizing that capability could increase the friction in that battle space significantly. senator nelson: general, the senate defense authorization bill calls for 30% reduction in
hid quarter staff across the department of defense, starting with a 7.5% cut in fiscal year 2006. what impact -- 2016. what impact will that have on your ability to conduct operations and what is centcom, if you want to submit for the record, planning to do to make that cut? general austin: sir, if you take a look what's going on -- and from pakistan to afghanistan to yemen to iraq and syria and to increase tensions in other places throughout the region, it's clear that we have a very active region. and so in order to manage the things that we need to manage and work with our partner nations in the region, we need an appropriate staff to be able
to do that. i fully understand and appreciate the pressure that the departments -- the department is under in terms of the reduction of the top line on the budget, and so we have to do what we can do and need to do to tighten our belts. i appreciate that. but it makes it increasingly difficult to get things done. senator nilsson: thank you, general. -- senator nelson: thank you, general. >> i want to thank both of you being here today and for your service. i want to follow up and ask about, general, i believe you testified about the effectiveness of the syrian kurds right now in syria in pushing back isil. senator ayotte: are we providing support and weapons to the syrian kurds? and what assistance are we giving them given that as i heard your testimony when senator fischer asked, we only have, as i understand it, four or five of u.s.-trained syrian fighters in this fight, so what
are we doing to support the syrian kurds if they are effectively pushing back isil on the ground? general austin: we are providing them a tremendous amount of air support which is what they wanted most. as you will recall, ma'am, this is the element -- a portion of this element where the folks that hung on at could he banny valiantly -- kobani valiantly. there was question if they could survive and continue on. they increased their size and activity and they made a significant difference in the northeast part of the country. and so what they asked from us over time is sustained airpower, sustained strikes and they have benefited from those strikes. because of their aggressiveness, they made a tremendous difference in the northeast. senator ayotte: so just to be clear, they haven't asked for arms? and how does turkey -- how is
turkey acting on the ground -- in terms of obviously first, i want to know what have the syrian kurds asked for that we haven't given them? i understand air support. how do you view turkey's role in all of this? because as i see it these four or five u.s.-trained fighters, let's not kid ourselves, it's a joke. if they're the only force on the ground doing something, what more can we do to help them? general austin: up to this point they have not asked us for arms, but it doesn't mean that they won't, ma'am. i think -- and, of course, you know, as we go forward, there are things that we can do to continue to help as they try to get supplies into northeastern syria, work with the kurds in northern iraq to help make sure that we have lines of communication that facilitate
that. and we're doing that. they will also need to partner with syrian arabs in the area, and they're doing that and we are working with syrian arabs, developing relationships as well. and so i think it's the combination of all of these forces that are going to make a difference going forward. and, again, we expect our footprint with the new syrian forces to grow over time. senator ayotte: sir, can you help me with turkey, what role that turkey is playing that we would like them to play? general austin: senator, turkey has recently come onboard and given us access to their bases which is a tremendous capability. it shortens the legs that our fighter pilots will have to fly. it allows us to be more esponsive, and they also are flying strikes in our formations and focused on
elements, isil elements in syria thus far. and so they are adding value. what we asked them to do, as well, is continue to tighten up or abate the flow of foreign fighters and lethal ack sell nce coming across the -- accellerance coming across the border. senator ayotte: how much support is iraq supporting for the asaid regime? how do re-- also their support for hezbollah, what role has hezbollah playing in terms of supporting the assad regime? general austin: well, we know that iran has been -- has been instrumental in providing support to syria throughout. and we see increasingly that they would like to provide -- they want to provide more support. what that will mean in the future i don't know, but they are active in syria. senator ayotte: so perhaps if
they had more cash and money, they would like to provide more support to the assad regime? general austin: that would be -- my assumption would be that would be the case. senator ayotte: i wanted to also ask our issues with these trained fighters. are we going to provide, if they're under attack, i guess we got four or five of them, but if we're able to get more of them trained what are we going to do to support them or protect them? general austin: we will protect -- provide air support and i.s.r. to overwatch and air support to protect them. with the first class we put in, we've done that already. so we are committed to doing that going forward. senator ayotte: thank you. senator mccain: senator mccaskill. senator mccaskill: i'm worried, like the rest of my colleagues, and there have been a number of questions from my colleagues,
about the train and equip mission. there are good news and bad news about america's military. the good news is you give them a job they'll figure out a way and get it done. sometimes you give them a job and they're not willing to say it's not going to work. at what point in time, general austin, do you envision us admitting that while all good intentions and on paper all of the work was done but the job of finding willing fighters that can be screened appropriately when you have the vast majority who feel victimized by the current situation in syria are running for the exits? at what point in time -- and what is the discussion ongoing about the $600 million you're requesting for next year? that seems very unrealistic to me in terms of a request. if at this juncture we successfully completed five to
six, and i believe you said the last information you had, ms. wormuth, more than 100. what is the number? ms. wormuth: senator mccaskill it's between 100 and 120 basically. senator mccaskill: so we're counting on our fingers and toes when we envisioned 5,400 by the end of the year. i'm just worried that this is one of those instances where the good news about our military is dominating. we can do this. we can do this. and the practical reality of this strategy aren't being fully embraced. general austin: thank you, senator. you know, i absolutely agree with you. we have the finest troops in the world. and they will figure out a way to get the job done one way or the other. and again, what our special
operations forces have done in northern syria is they didn't wait for the new syrian force program or train and equip program to fully develop. at the very outset, they began to engage elements like the y.p.g. and enable those elements, and they are making a difference on the battlefield. and there are tens of thousands of the y.p.g. out there. they're right now fighting isil. so because the syria train and equip program is slower getting started than we'd like for it to be, it doesn't mean we're not creating effects on the battlefield. senator mccaskill: i want to make sure, general austin, i know they feel strongly about the surge and there are a lot of incredible american heroes that were part of that surge, but the other part of the surge we don't talk about as frequently is we paid a lot of people. we paid a lot of people to help us during the surge.
is this money that we're setting aside for train and equip, would it be better off in direct compensation to some f that y.p.g. force? ms. wormuth: senator mccaskill, can i address this a little bit? as general austin said, we're reviewing the program and we're looking at a range of options. our train and equip program is part of a broader effort that we're prosecuting with the y.p.g., with the syrian arab coalition and so on, and we're looking at how to have our train and equip program effectively enable those other efforts and i think as we go forward and look at what our options are, we absolutely want to look at the resources we requested for the next year and how that fits in. . the forces we are training right now small in number and clearly are not going to reach the numbers we planned for are nevertheless getting terrific training and very good equipment. as such will be able to really
be force multipliers of those other groups on the ground that have been very effective like the syrian arab coalition. senator mccaskill: if we end up at the end of the year bragging about the difference, it's time for a new plan. ms. wormuth: i do not mean to be bragging. the program is smaller than hoped. senator mccaskill: i know and understand from your testimony, general austin, you can't comment about the i.g. investigation into this accusation that people are putting pressure on intelligence anal-is to change the tenor of their report. it's a serious allegation that strikes at the core of our government in terms of our ability to oversee and make decisions around the use of our military. i want to say at the end of this investigation when you can discuss it, i want to just put on the record that i, for one, will be watching very carefully about any potential retaliation
against identify of the men or women that may have come forward with allegations. it is incredibly important that whistle blowers be protected in this space. depending on what the investigation finds, i understand that maybe there are other factors i'm not aware of, but i just wanted to put on the record i will be paying very close attention to how these whistle blowers are treated in the aftermath of this investigation. general austin: i share your concern, smart. assure you -- i will that we will do everything within our power to ensure that the whistle blowers remain protected. there is no retaliation. this is absolutely important. gain, we need oversight by organizations like the i.g. so we welcome that. we are going to cooperate fully and we'll make sure that we
abide by the spirit of this investigation. senator mccaskill: thank you. senator mccain: senator sessions. senator sessions: thank you, senator mccain. the grim nature of your remarks are justified. ms. wormuth, how long has it been since we had this train and equip program in effect? ms. wormuth: we started the actual training earlier this spring. we started the program in december when we got authority from congress. we spent time putting together -- senator session: you have to say we started in december that's when it was authorized and funding provided. we have to acknowledge this is a total failure. it's just a failure. i wish it weren't so, but that's the fact. so it is time to -- way past time to react to that failure. i just would say the whole idea that we've got to wait for the locals to take ownership and to take a lead and do this kind of
activity without any leadership support sufficient from the united states or our allies is also a failure. they are not able to organize well. mosul has fallen. there are divisions within iraq that make it very difficult. so i just wish it weren't so, but i'm afraid that's the reality we are dealing with. we now have, i believe, the u.n. says four million refugees, seven million displaced persons. it's obvious to me that this is a humanitarian catastrophe. we need to deal with it in an honest way. and the most effective and honest way is to keep people as close to home as possible. if they can't stay in their homes because of violence and war, then they ought to be kept as close to home as possible. i talked to a senior european official recently and he told me
that this refugee crisis is the greatest threat to europe since world war ii. i don't see any plan to make it any better. general austin, we've got to consider creating safe zones within syria. i understand there are someplaces in syria now that refugees can stay. and we are going to have to keep -- we can't have millions and millions of people walking into europe. this goes without -- it's hardly worth discussing. i am really worried about this. wish that we could -- we already done much better by being so slow to act initially, this is what has resulted. now the situation is far more grim than it should be, in my opinion. general austin, do i tend to agree with you that a defeat of isil is not the end of the problems in the middle east.
of got an -- a spasm extremism that witnesses have told us would be going on for 50 years, would you agree? general austin: i agree. senator sessions: one victory here doesn't mean it's a total victory. there will be another problem somewhere elses as long as this ideology is out there. i believe, ms. wormuth, we need a strategy. an understood strategy bipartisan in this congress with our allies around the world to confront this long-term multidecade threat to the western democratic order. and to try to help protect people in the middle east from this disaster. do we have a strategy of that kind? our allies in the united states and congress and republicans and democrats understand and agree on?
ms. wormuth: we have a strategy to defeat isil in the middle east. largely in the middle east but obviously spreading to other areas. there are other dynamics in the middle east that are a part of this. there is the broader sunni shiia sectarian conflict that has done on for decades. there is the fact that many of the governments in that region are not very representative and have internal policies that don't give much freedoms to their people. so they are part -- that's part of what's creating the problem in the middle east as well. and a big part of our relationships with these countries is talking to them about the importance of more democratic approaches. senator sessions: well said in one sense. however, does that mean we don't support the king of jordan? just asking rhetoricically. we've got to have a more realistic policy than that. i would just -- was just reading a book on order.
just last night hit the part about george kenon and the containment strategy that maintained western unity, free world against the communist totalitarians. he went on for 50 years almost. this is the way it was expressed. soviet expansionism, according to kenon, was real and inherent. the conflict was inherent in the two ideologies. it's incompatible. toe tal tear yism and communist and constitutional democracy. he said it could be, quote, contained by an adroit and vigilant application of counter force at a series of constantly shifting geographical and political points. close quote. and i don't sense that we have any such strategy. i'm sorry we don't. i think also that radical islam,
shari'a law is essential component is incompatible with constitutional democratcy. we need to work better. thank you, mr. chairman. senator mccain: senator shaheen. senator shaheen: thank you both for being here. since senator sessions commented about communism and containment as a good segue into my first question which is for ms. wormuth, why do you believe four years into this conflict that russia is deploying material and increased shipments to the assad regime and setting up shop in syria in a way that they haven't over the last four years? ms. wormuth: russia has certainly been a supporter of the assad regime for some time. i think putin has spoken more publicly about the role russia has played to date. i think part of what may be happening, part of putin's calculus may be assad's regime
has been under greater threat in the last several months as isil . s advanced in places so putin may be nervous about the stability of the assad regime and may be trying to shore it up. senator shaheen: how do we assess the possibility that the assad regime might fall? ms. wormuth: i think at this point the assessments i have read are that the regime actually still has considerable strengths in terms of its military forces. it's still the most powerful military force on the ground. and the support it receives from iran and russia remains significant. so there have certainly been battlefield loss that is are concerning, but -- and we are looking at, obviously, how to deal with we are planning and thinking about the potential for a significant retrenchment. but i think the assessment right now is that the regime is not in
imminent danger of falling. senator shaheen: air defense systems in syria -- maybe this is a question for you, general austin. are we concerned they'll threaten our coalition aircraft? general austin: if they are trying to operate in the same space, senator, that possibility is clearly there. senator shaheen: how are we thinking about responding to that? for either of you. ms. wormuth: i think we are still in the early stages of what exactly russia is doing, but one -- at the diplomatic level, we are making very clear that deployments that are going to shore up the regime draw out the conflict are counterproductive and destabilizing and that if this is really about russia trying to join the fight against isil, then we would expect the kinds of military capabilities they deploy to be consistent with that. senator shaheen: how are we
making that clear to russia? ms. wormuth: there are a number of channels, in particular secretary kerry speaks to his counterpart very regularly and has been making that point very clear i then i -- very clear. i would say on the military side, i'm sure general austin can elaborate, if it gets to the point where we see russian aircraft operating in that area, we would, i imagine, need to set up some sort of deconflicts mecksism so we can continue our counter isil campaign there. it senator shaheen: general austin? general austin: we know how to do that, senator. my utmost concern is protection of my -- our troops. we are going to make sure we have the ability to protect ourselves at all time. on occasion syrian aircraft that are flying in spaces that are not-too-distant from where we are operating. but we are able to make sure that, number one, we maintain
vigilance, and number two, we -- we workttle space in a battle space in such a way we avoid conflict, avoid ncounter if at all possible. senator shaheen: i appreciate that has been our policy to date given the total failure of our ability to influence the outcome of the syrian civil war. are we assessing whether we should take a different response with respect to assad? and engaging with the syrian troops? ms. wormuth: i think we continue to look -- we continue to believe that what would be the best solution is to get a political transition and get assad out of the government while retaining the governance structures so you don't have a situation of chaos on the
ground. russia, with its relationship with the regime, could potentially contribute to helping find that solution. that would be a valuable contribution from russia. senator shaheen: there is no incentive at this point for russia to do that. ms. wormuth: i think -- senator shaheen: what's the incentive? ms. wormuth: i think their incentive -- they want more than anything a more stable syria. and they are quite fearful of isil as well. they have many, many chechens in russia. they are just as concerned about foreign fighter flows from isil as we are. i think russia does have an interest in having a more stable syria and a constructive way for them to engage would be to work with us and other countries who would like to see a transition there to try to come up with a diplomatic way to make that transition happen. senator shaheen: i certainly think that would be a positive
outcome, but it's not clear to me that we have seen any action in the last 4 1/2 years to suggest that russia's going to play a more positive role. thank you. >> thank you, mr. chairman. general austin, thank you for your service. in both syria and in iraq we have displaced individuals that clearly are part of the discussion on the worldwide stage. individuals moving into europe. i'm curious in terms of the numbers right now, this would be a question for either of you, but do we have an update on the total number of individuals who are displaced between syria and iraq that you can share with us this morning? ms. wormuth: i believe, senator, that it's around four million. it's a very large number. there are more than a million -- senator rounds: that would be from syria. ms. wormuth: i thought it was from syria and iraq. there are more than a million
refugees in turkey right now there are many hundreds of thousands if not a million refugees in jordan. the neighboring countries are already hosting very large numbers of refugees. lebanon, jordan, and turkey. senator rounds: could you check and see if the numbers you are providing are up to date. what i'm curious about are the number of individuals displaced both in syria and the number of individuals displaced in iraq, but still perhaps in iraq. ms. wormuth: we can get you that. senator rounds: i would appreciate that. general, the reason for my question is that the -- it would appear as this number is a significant number, most certainly they are part of any concern with regard to military operations regardless of where you're at. our desire not to do more harm than good in what we provide. and yet at the same time one of our expectations is that we are doing ongoing air operations throughout the area. we don't want to get into areas
where we are going to cause more damage. and yet right now you're challenged because you really don't have the forward air observers that would make it more efficient than what you've got today. can you share with us a little bit about what you're doing to try to improve that situation and how you would like to see hat handled? general austin: we routinely use all of our intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance assets. u.a.v.'s and manned aircraft to make sure that we understand what's going on on the ground before we employ weapons. and we are diligent in our efforts here. not overly cautious to the point where we -- we are not able to take advantage of opportunities to engage the enemy, but we are very, very mindful of the possibility of committing
civilian casualties. senator rounds: it's fair to say we are not using any of our own forward air -- we don't have any forward arab observers on the ground at all? general austin: that is correct. our j tacks are operating in the command centers. what that does is it allows the j tacks to have visibility over what's going on in the target area, but it also enables them to gain visibility of where the friendly troops are. and this is one of the biggest challenges that we encounter throughout this battle space. in a lot of cases the folks who are trying to help don't have a good handle on where their people are. that slows down the -- our ability to engage. senator rounds: when you are training individuals in iraq and those who want to fight back in syria, we understand and i think -- i don't think there's anybody out here with disagreement with
the fact we are not on schedule for getting the number we want to have trained. that's a fair assessment. in templets number of individuals that we want to have trained that are both iraqi ationals and syrian nationals. general austin: struggling with my sign there. you're right, sir. we would like to see a lot more forces available to be trained. we are encouraging the government of iraq to recruit those forces, bring them onboard so we can get them into training centers. what we discovered -- not discovered, knew this going on, is that those forces that have been trained by us are doing pretty well on the battlefield. senator rounds: fair to say one of the problems we've got particularly with syrian fighters is that in our ability to actually discern which ones we can use and which ones we are not using based upon our review of their background and what they intend to do, what they
want to do is eliminate them as part of our team. fair to say? general austin: that's correct, sir. we are focusing on countering isil. senator round: thank you, mr. chairman. >> thank you, mr. chairman. oth of you have testified that very strict vetting process has resulted in far fewer fighters -- for us to train. senator hirono: does this mean we are turning away thousands of potential fighters? ms. wormuth: senator i -- senator, i would say two things, one, because the authority we have focuses our program on fighting isil, there are a number of individuals who might like to receive training from the united states or equipment for that matter, but they want to fight the regime. and that's not the focus of our program. and then in the other, the other way, the standards affect the recruiting pool is obviously we want to make sure we have confidence in the people we bring into our program and that we can give them equipment and
trust them to use that appropriately. from us them to fight -- trust them to fight on the battlefield consistent with armed conflict. in many cases people who might be interested in volunteering don't meet those standards. or are younger than -- are under the age of 18, for example, or who are otherwise not medically qualified. senator hirono: is one of the assessments that you're doing is to review whether or not we are being unrealistic regarding the kinds of factors that we want you to take into consideration before you will train a particular individual? is that one of the areas you are looking to which maybe require congressional action? ms. wormuth: we certainly are looking at our recruiting and screening process all of the time. even before, frankly, the first class was reinserted, we were looking at how to speed up our recruiting process and speed up
the screening process. we are looking at the kinds of criteria that we have in place, but i think our view is that right now our criteria are very consistent with the requirements that congress gave us and if we were to loosen them, for example, i think we would absolutely have to come back to you-all and ask for -- senator hirono: that is my question. whether you're seriously considering asking us to re-evaluate the criteria congress established. i know we are talking today about what's going on on the ground, i'm concerned also -- mentioned this in your testimony that you are looking for more effective ways to counter isil's very effective messaging campaign. there are concerns about isil's ability to motivate lone wolves who will take action without ever having direct contact with isil. taking action in our country as
well as elsewhere. what are some of the effective ways that you are countering isil's messaging strategy? ms. wormuth: i think we are taking some steps that are effective, but we need to do more. part of what we have been working, for example, closely with a number of countries in the coalition to identify communicators inside of those communities who have credibility with muslim populations. and who will be able to lay out a compelling reasons why isil's theology is completely bankrupt. so we have been working with governments to counter extremism. we have been working to get our messages out about military success that is we have more effectively. but a lot of it is working with the private -- the private sector and civil society to try to get the right kinds of message -- messengers to speak to these groups. it's a very challenging part of our effort and i think we need
to do more there. senator hirono: i completely agree with that because i do think that the lone wolf phenomenon and the problem is one that we really don't have a very good handle on. general, i think you mentioned that you thought there were signs that iran would like to be more active in supporting syria and possibly that because of the agreement and they are getting their hands on more money as sanctions get lifted. you said you saw some signs of that iran would like to do more. what are these signs that you're referring to? we know that iran is already supporting syria. are you expecting that they are going to put billions more into their support of assad? general austin: they are already supporting syria. ou're exactly right. as things become more dynamic in
syria and the regime is increasingly challenged, it's my assessment that iran will want to continue to try to shore them up in a greater way. senator hirono: it's not like our country will stand by idly while iran proceeds with that program, correct? we are not going to just sit there. ms. wormuth: no, certainly not. we absolutely are very focused on countering iran's maligned activities in syria as well as the broader region. we have sanctions of our own that are in place to try to block arms, for example, going to countries. we have interdicted or worked with folks in the coalition to interdict weapons going from iran to the huttis for example. and we would continue to try to use those kinds of tools to limit iran's ability to support. -- support the syrians.
senator hirono: thank you. >> thank you. mr. chairman, for calling this important hearing. thank you, secretary wormuth, and general austin, for taking the time today to answer our questions. it's deeply appreciated. it's been one year since president obama announced to the world that the united states would undertake a strategy to defeat isis in order to return some semblance of stability to iraq and create an environment that could lead to a negotiated end to the civil war in syria. senator lee: it was my belief that president obama's overall goal and the strategy he outlined to achieve that goal may have been beset from the outset by some flawed assumptions, some contradictions, and perhaps an excessive reliance on political forecasting in a region of the world that is anything but easy to prodict. -- predict. this compounded by a string of
recent events is why i think it may be time for us to reassess the way the united states views this conflict and chooses to respond to it. i think we need to start by making clear-eyed threat assessments and prioritizing u.s. national security interests. general austin, what's your assessment of the most significant threats that the conflict in syria and in iraq pose to the security of u.s. citizens and our freedoms? in other words, at the end of the day what needs to be accomplished for the u.s. government to fulfill and perform its constitutional duty to protect the people of the united states and our interests? general austin: thank you,
senator. in my belief. it will exmortgage terror to other parts of the world and particularly to places like our homeland. we see the beginnings of this in this lone wolf activity that we talk about. we also see what we are concerned about individuals who go into iraq and syria and fight as a part of this effort and return -- foningsly return back to our homeland and -- potentially return back to our homeland and bring those skills back with them. this is a threat to us and i think the threat will continue to increase. senator lee: the administration's strategy is to
create an environment in syria that will be likely to lead to a negotiated settlement of the civil war and result in the removal of assad from power in damascus. in your professional military opinion, general austin, and given your knowledge of the region, what level of pressure would need to be leveraged against mr. assad and his supporters in order for them to pitulate, especially as many minority groups view some opposition groups as a threat to their survival? how much investment would be needed from the coalition countries in order to provide security and stability in hypothetical post assad syria? general austin: i think that assad would only be willing, as
you have stated, senator, to come to the table to negotiate a settlement if he feels like he is threatened. and as things continue to develop in the country, we see a umber of elements that are fighting the regime, isil. their efforts come together and place increasing pressure on assad. he is losing. he still has significant capability, but he's losing capability every day. now, the wild card is when countries like iran or foningsly russia -- potentially russia could possibly move in and shore him up, it could extend things for a bit of time. now, in a post-assad irmente, we have to consider that -- environment, we have to consider there are a number of elements there that will continue to be there, that will continue to fight. if there are remnants of isil
there, they'll continue to fight . it will require some stability force to go in and make sure whatever the transition government looks like, it has the ability to do its job. senator lee: thank you, general austin. i see my time's expired. thank you. >> on behalf of chairman mccain, let me recognize the senator. >> thank you, senator reed, thanks to our witnesses. i'm going to start with a compliment and refer to everyone else on the committee and express concerns. the compliment was i was in baghdad, kuwait, jordan, turkey in late june and early july and i was in president arbanny's office, he said if president obama had not started the bombing campaign on the mount on august 8, we would not be here today. he meant we the kurdish people and kurdistan. he wanted us to extend our thanks back to the administration and congress. i also saw a joint operations
command at the airport in irwe'll with a very close coordination forces and the kurdish peshmerga. senator kaine: everywhere else i traveled to bag cad and other parts of the region, it seems like there are major problems. the effort to retake ramadi that was begun in mid july is not going that well. and in syria absent some successes in the kurdish area has been very, very disastrous. i was not an original supporter when senator mccain raised the idea of a no-fly humanitarian zone in the fall of 2013. i listened to general dempsey told us why that wasn't a good idea and generally agreed. by the time senator king and i went to lebanon in february of 2014 and saw a million refugees already into lebanon, i became converted. when senator mccain pushed the idea of humanitarian zone first there was only about 750,000 syrian refugees in turkey, there is now 1.8 million, it will be two million soon. there's four million, the number
is four million syrians have fled outside the country. there's 7.8 million internally displaced syrians in the country. they could easily leave the country as well. humanitarian zone in northern syria would be very difficult to do, but i think the benefit of that compared with four million and then climbing could be six, seven, eight million refugees, some of whom could be very, very dangerous leaving the country, i think we would have been wise to do it when senator mccain suggested it, and i think we would still be wise to do it. having met with several refugees in turkey and a lot of those who fled the country would go back if they felt there was a place where basic needs would be met and they would be safe. i would encourage that. that's not your decision to make. i would encourage that to the administration. let me talk about the -- general austin, you said a second ago in response i think to senator mccain's question, that you thought the war against isil would go on for years. is that correct?
general austin: yes, sir. senator kaine: i don't think go on for years and the chances of success of isil are dimmed. i don't think those are compatible statements. that was a quote from chairman dempsey that isil's chances of success are dimming. i don't think those are really compatible statements. it seems like the isil threat is expanding geographically. we are talking about iraq and syria here, but there is isil presence in libya we are paying attention to. there is isil presence in afghanistan largely disaffected taliban who are moving over and claiming allegiance to isil. boko haram has pledged allegiance to isil. not yet threatening the united states as far as i know. there may be some isil presence in yemen, is that correct? general austin: that is correct, sir. there is. senator kaine: the potential battlefield against isil is expanding. and we are actually maybe engaging in some new activity. my understanding, general
austin, you indicated, we have undertaken air strikes to support trained syrians in syria when they have been threatened by al miss a, correct? and we are also prepared as a change in policy from early august to undertake air strikes to protect those syrian fighters if they fall under threat and attack by the assad regime? general austin: that's correct, sir. senator kaine: i completely agree with that, but i have to ask what is the legal predicate for the united states undertaking military action against forces of the assad regime? ms. wormuth: senator, our determination is that as you know very well we can defend against isil under the 2001 aumf, and if our forces are attacked by the regime in a particular circumstances, we could -- the president could exercise his article 2 rights under the constitution. senator kaine: if our forces, if
the u.s. is attacked -- ms. wormuth: i meant our forces meaning the forces we trained. senator kaine: i have not seen an interpretation of article 2 ever that would allow the united states to undertake action under article 2 to protect others' fighters. can you take action under article 2 to protect the u.s. the president doesn't need to ask anybody's permission for that. to undertake action to protect others' fighters, i have never seen an interpretation of article 2 that would do this. the last thing i'll say, there is a lot more criticism i would get into here and a lot of us have, but i worry that congress is criticizing you as if we were editorial writers. we have a lot of opinions. we are acting like fans in the stands. we still have not authorized this war. we still have not authorized this war. i believe it is being carried out in violation of basic legal principles because congress has
not done what congress is supposed to do. we can be fans in the stands and throw all the criticisms we want, but we are in the 14-month of an undeclared war that is based upon a legal justification that is specious in my view. but congress has allowed it to happen. completely giving up their article 1 responsibilities. now that we have been told the war will go on for years, my question is to my colleagues, how long are we going to allow a president to wage an executive war without a congressional authorization? i think we are afraid to touch this. we can criticize this all we want. we'll have many more hearings like this o over the course of a number of years. i'm sure we'll cr critical things to say. but if we are not willing to do our constitutional duty, why are we here? we are not fans. we are supposed to be the owners of this team. thank you, mr. chair. senator reed: recognize senator cotton. senator cotton: wars are not won with paper resolutions, they are won with iron resolution. and that is clearly lacking in our strategy right now against
the islamic state. general austin, ms. wormuth, thank you for coming. general austin, in t. for all the thousands of troopers you represent for your service and their service. i want to speak briefly about the reports that there may have been some efforts to cook the books about our performance in the campaign against the islamic state. i know in your opening statement you acknowledge this. acknowledge the problem. there is ongoing investigations to include with the i.g. but you have an ongoing challenge in our intelligence reporting and the way it affects your operations, as well as the command climate. putting aside the i.g. investigation, could you just tell us what steps you are taking to confront those challenges that you face on a daily basis? general austin: i have recently and continue to emphasize, senator, to all of my subordinates that my expectation is that i get candid and accurate intelligence assessments from my staff.
i also emphasize to my entire command as i have in every command that i have had that the welfare of my people is extremely important to me. and so i care about my people. my expectation is that they have a climate that's conducive to providing for a good healthy sound work environment forum. senator cotton: i would have to say, too, as someone who regularly consumes intelligence community products on the islamic state and our campaign against them as a member of this committee and member of the intelligence committee, i was very surprised to hear allegation that is books are being cooked. those products are not painting a very pretty picture how this campaign is going. general austin, i want to move now to events in syria and in particular russia's military buildup, published reports have said in the last couple weeks to include admissions of senior russian officials that russia is sending aircraft there, air
defense systems, personnel carriers, main battle tanks now. in addition to life support systems like modular housing. they are completely designed for a large and continued presence. how many air strikes is the coalition conducting on a daily basis right now in syria? general austin: we are conducting overall about 24 or so air strikes in iraq and syria and about a third are in syria. senator cotton: what efforts if any, do we have under way to deconflict this battle space now that we have hundreds, perhaps thousands of russians running around with air defense systems and battle tanks and personnel carriers? general austin: from a military perspective, we continue to look at what the possibilities for encounters are, senator. and we have -- we make sure that we have measures in place to ensure that we don't have an inadvertent encounter with
either russian aircraft or syrian aircraft. senator cotton: do our pilots have to have 100% identification there is no russian on the target before they can strike that target? general austin: the russians to my knowledge have not started operations as of this point. so we have not had to encounter that yet. but clearly these are things that from a tactical perspective that we will continue to work and think through. senator cotton: assad's other main supporter inside syria and iran, and specifically the revolution guard force and cooed -- qud force, do we need positive identification there are no iranian forces there? general austin: our pilots have to have 100% -- they have to have certainty, senator, that there are isil targets there to be engaged. as you know we can see what we are shooting at or what we are engaging, this is not an issue.
senator cotton: there is a report recently in the media that russia offered in 2012 to help the west remove assad from power and that the united states declined that offer because we believed that assad would fall of his own accord. is that an accurate report? ms. wormuth: i don't believe that's an accurate report. but that's obviously from several years ago i wasn't in this position at that time. i don't believe it's accurate. senator cotton: do you believe iran and their proxies can be a partner in the fight against the islamic state in any way in iraq and syria? ms. wormuth: no, not really. i mean we are not cooperating with iran right now in iraq for example. we are deconflicting. as you know well they certainly have a role with some of the shiia militia on the ground, some of the popular mobilization forces. but we are not cooperating and i
don't see iran as having a productive role in either iraq or syria. senator cotton: thank you. i agree given the fact there are militias relying on u.s. airpower and now russian forces in iran to back up their hapless efforts they n aren't going to be a partner in trying to rely on iran to defeat the islamic state is like trying to rely on gasoline to put out a fire. senator reed: beebe half of the chairman, senator king. senator king: thank you, mr. chair. general, i want to touch for a few moments on the intelligence issue. i consider this extremely grave. a grave issue, because if we don't have reliable intelligence as policymakers and if the president doesn't have reliable intelligence, we can't make good policy. this keeps happening. this goes back to the pay bay of pigs, vietnam, the iraq war, and
this allegation is -- these allegations are extremely serious and i hope you will -- i understand we have an i.g. investigation, but as a commanding officer, i would hope that you would just be all over this. i want to ask you a direct question. have you ever ordered, suggested, or hinted to any of the intelligence command that they should sweeten the intelligence reports in order to portray a more positive view of the success of our efforts in iraq or syria? general austin: absolutely not, senator king. absolutely not. senator king: i just hope you'll stay on this. as you know better than niff us, if you don't have good intelligence, are you not only going into the battle blind, if it's cooked intelligence, you are going into the battle with
one hand tied behind your back. i'm extremely concerned about this issue. this is a question for the record. you used the term progress in your statement a number of times. progress here and progress there. not now but for the record, i would like a very specific list of what you consider progress. where we are succeeding. because generally it doesn't look like that. it looks more like a stalemate and i think, again, we should have this information and i know some of it is in your testimony, but i'd like, if you could, just a one pager on where you think progress has been made. general austin: be happy to provide that, sir. get that to you right away. senator king: from a broad question of policy, this comes off of a lot of the discussion we had, assad and isis are evil twins. isis came into existence in reaction to assad. in retrospect and like senator
kaine i was one very reluctant about getting involved, but in retrospect, the longer we left assad there, it has created a situation both a humanitarian crisis and a situation that has allowed isil -- isil didn't even exist when we first started having these hearings. it's allowed them to -- it's given them an enemy and opportunity to make hay with the population. a strategy that ignores assad -- for example, trains -- to go into syria to only fight isil but not assad i think -- i think we now need to recognize that's not a logical strategy. part of good strategic thinking is you modify your strategy according to the changed circumstances. the circumstances are, you mentioned he's losing his capabilities every day, i'm sorry, general. i have been hearing that at every hearing since 2013. assad is about to go. he's about to collapse. i know you didn't say that
today, but we've got to find a strategy that allows us to move assad aside in some way working with the russians, if necessary, or the iranians, if necessary, because he's the irritant that's keeping this thing stirred up. finally, in terms of our troops, the fundamental problem seems to me is, we are not going to defeat isis with just airpower, everybody knows that. we are trying to rely on a weak force in iraq and no force in syria. how do we refine this strategy, general, and you know that -- in order to root them out of mostle or iraq or any place else, you have to have troops on the ground. we don't want them to be americans. how do we break through this? clearly the train and equip is too little too late. your thoughts. general austin: we are going to need a greater commitment from the partners that we are
enabling, senator. again, if the iraqis make the commitment to put more troops through the train and equip program, we'll get them trained and equipped and get them into the fight. senator king: are there signs the iraqis willing to do that? do they want mosul back? general austin: i certainly think so. they want to stabilize anbar, first. and then take on mosul. yes, i believe that. senator king: give me thoughts on the overall strategy here. ms. wormuth: certainly, senator. in temples getting more iraqis into the fight, they are, as i said, increased -- they are opening the aperture in terms of which units they are putting into our training sites. that's going to help create additional -- senator king: i would like specific numbers for the record. ms. wormuth: certainly. we see them starting to now plan ahead in terms of which units are going into the training pipeline, which again i think indicates a greater sense of
urgency on their part. and on the syrian side of the ledger i would say it is clearly harder to find partners on the ground on the syrian side of the ledger, but one of the things that we didn't envision a year ago was the partnership, if you will, that we have of our airpower with the syrian kurds and the syrian arab coalition that are operating with them. that group on its own won't be enough, but we are continuing to look for opportunities like that even as we review our own train and equip. senator king: i need to rethink a strategy about a safe zone, no-fly zone, some protection from assad's barrel bombs. this is -- i hate it when the chairman's right. he's been talking about this for two years, in retrospect i think he was right. we have allowed this to just -- atrocity to go on too long. it's impacting us. it's impacting the rest of europe. i really think that there should
be a rethinking of the nonintervention strategy. not in terms of troops, but in terms of airpower in order to level the playing field, bring pleasure on assad and the russians so -- pressure on assad and the russians because it doesn't seem to be a protect now. thank you very much. senator reed: on behalf of the chairman, senator. >> thank you. ms. wormuth, you made in your opening statement, i apologize i had to step out i had a judiciary committee meeting. you made a comment in your opening statement i want to focus time on through a series of questions that i can get briefed. senator till list: you said isis it not 10-foot tall. the reason i have a concern with that statement is it's reminiscent of characterizing them as the j.v. team. they are a very serious threat. before i go forward, general austin, i neglected to do what i always do when i see people in uniform. thank you for your service. i know you guys are a part of
the solution. but when we say that isis is not 10 feet tall, they are the richest threat group of this kind in human history. through the seizure of assets for the iraqi national bank, i think they see some $820 million. last week we had a memorial for 9/11. it's estimated that the 9/11 attacks cost about $500,000. through that one asset seizure, if my math is right, that equates to about 1,600 9/11s having the resources to strike that kind of damage in our home lan, middle east, and europe and other places. i think we need to recognize them as one of the single greatest threats we have today. of course we have russia, north korea, iran. they are at the frontline for people that we have to take seriously. we have to figure out when we are making progress and when we are not. that leads to my questions. do you feel like you are -- the
last 24, 36 months, whatever time horizon general austin, makes sense to you, does isis control more or less territory or do they have greater or less influence in other areas that are merging as potential strongholds for isis in the future? more or less? -- ral austin: last in iraq senator tillis: we know they are expanding elsewhere. we know they are changing jerseys in afghanistan, from al qaeda and other groups, and taliban into isis. we have them operating in other areas. what's the net? more or less? general austin: it would be more. senator tillis: ok. do they have -- if you were to compare their resource, economic resources, over the last 24, 36 months, do they have more or less dollars to support their terrorist operations? general austin: less. we have targeted their
resources. they make money, as you know, senator, off things like oil collection. senator tillis: antiquity sales, kidnappings. general austin: i have said on a number of occasions not only do we have to stop the flow of foreign fighters, but we have to take away this enemy's ability to finance. senator tillis: i'm trying to come up with this concept of a dashboard so when we have the next committee hearing i can ask you the same series of questions and see where the trends are. do they have more or less influence -- they seem to be winning on social media in terms of reaching out to people in the homeland. reaching out to people in europe about six hours ago it was posted some 15-year-old girl murdered her mother in europe. was convicted of murder as a result of being radicalized by some of the social media presence. have we stemmed the tied on their continued expansion of the use of social media to radicalize people internationally in the homeland? ms. wormuth: i think they do have a more effective counter
messaging campaign at this point. that's an area we need to work on. senator tillis: it seems like again in terms of trends the ground that they are taking, the places they are heavily influencing, social media. this is an organization that is trending in the wrong direction against the greatest superpower that's ever existed. i want to go back to chemical weapons. do you think that -- there's been reports, all i want to talk about confirmed reports. do you think that their use of chemical weapons have increased over the last 24 months or beginning to see evidence that they are being used in certain areas in syria and iraq? more or less? ms. wormuth: senator, given that they had no apparent use of chemical weapons at the outset, there have been -- some indications. senator tillis: ok. the last question i have is how -- i understand that most of the
problem has to deal with the fact that iraq has failed to do what they need to do to engage the sunni population. but they haven't done it. so over the course of the last 24, 36 months has the sunni population been more or less inclined to side with isis where the conflicts are arising in iraq? ms. wormuth: i think we have seen considerable outreach from prime minister abaddy. there are now 4,000 sunni tribal fighters in anbar we didn't have six months ago. senator tillis: you feel like we are winning in terms of winning the hearts and minds of sunni population. general austin: i would agree they are less inclined in iraq to side with isil. they have seen what isil brings to the table and most of of the sunnis don't want that going forward. they do want to be included in the government of iraq. senator tillis: i think they should be.
if we are going to have long-term strategy that has long-term engagement. thank you very much, i'm soarry, ranking member, for going over time. senator reed: senator king has requested additional question. senator king. senator king: it's not a question, mr. chairman. i want to submit for the record an extraordinary speech by robert gates in 1992 when he was head of the c.i.a. on the danger of politicization of intelligence. it's prescient and brilliant which is not surprising coming from robert gates. i want to submit it for the record. thank you. senator reed: without objection, on behalf of chairman mccain let me thank the witnesses and adjourn the hearing. thank you. [captions copyright national cable satellite corp. 2015] [captioning performed by the national captioning institute, which is responsible for its caption content and accuracy. visit ncicap.org]
this afternoon, the f.d.a. commissioner speaking before the senate appropriations agriculture subcommittee. they'll be talking about the f.d.a. modernization bill and food safety. again live at 2:00 p.m. eastern over on c-span3. president obama talking about the deadline on the budget. here's the headline in "the hill" obama to pressure g.o.p. on budget at business round table. speaking to the group at this hour. they say he will appear before business leaders today to warn republicans of the economic consequences of a government shutdown. he'll take questions at a meeting of the business round table where the president will call on congress to pass government funding bills that raise spending caps. that at the hill.com. this is the congress faces the deadline of september 30, the end of the fiscal year. the house gaveling in momentarily. they're not going to take up the budget today. they'll start off first at noon with morning hour speeches. come back at 2:00 p.m. eastern for legislative work. 12 bills on the agenda today. including one that directs the
t.s.a. to improve airport security by ensuring all airports have response plans to security threats. then later in the week a measure that would defund planned parenthood for one year while congress investigates the activities the organization has shown in recent months on the videos they have shown. that's coming up tomorrow. live now to the house floor here on c-span. [no audio]