Hagel: US must weigh results of broader Iraq fight
ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — As the U.S. considers how to expand operations against the Islamic State militants in Iraq, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Monday that President Barack Obama needs to weigh all the consequences of what could be a lengthy campaign, and what could go wrong.
Speaking to reporters in Turkey Monday, Hagel said the advice he gives the president has to include not just the start of any operation, but how it will end.
“Once you start an airstrike, or once you start any military action, it doesn’t end there. It ends up somewhere down the road,” said Hagel. “That’s not an excuse for inaction, because, as we know, there are consequences to inaction as well.”
Hagel has been meeting with allies over the past several days, including at the NATO summit in Wales late last week and in visits to Turkey and Georgia, as part of a broad effort to pull together a coalition to fight the Islamic State militants who have seized parts of Syria and a large swath of western and northern Iraq in months of brutal fighting.
As another part of the effort, Hagel has been talking to members of Congress by phone during this trip about Obama’s remarks scheduled for Wednesday. He said that in those conversations there has been broad agreement that the Islamic State militants must be destroyed. The president is expected to outline U.S. plans to expand the campaign against the insurgent group.
According to Hagel, some lawmakers don’t believe Obama needs any more legal authorization from Congress to broaden the fight, but other members aren’t so sure. That legal question, he said, is still open and government lawyers are looking into it.
While Hagel said he did not want to get ahead of the president’s announcement, he added, “one of the things I know he intends to do is clearly define the challenge, the threat, what he intends to do about this ... I’m sure he will mention the Congress in that speech. He wants the Congress as a partner.”
The U.S. has been conducting limited airstrikes in Iraq, mainly to protect U.S. personnel and interests, critical infrastructure, and refugees fleeing the insurgents.
As officials look at broadening that campaign to target the Islamic State militants across Iraq and across the border into Syria, there are nagging questions about whether this would drag the U.S. into a messy, drawn-out conflict in Syria.
A number of countries, including the United Kingdom, were reluctant a year ago to launch military strikes into Syria, where there were worries about President Bashar Assad’s use of chemical weapons against his people.
Hagel said Monday that he thinks the world is in a different place today because of the growing threat of the Islamic insurgents.