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October 8, 2015

State Department Official: ISIS Now ‘a Full-Blown Army’

KHAZAIR, IRAQ -- Iraqi families who fled recent fighting near the city of Mosul prepare to sleep on the ground as they try to enter a temporary displacement camp but are blocked by Kurdish soldiers on July 3. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

KHAZAIR, IRAQ — Iraqi families who fled recent fighting vs. ISIS near the city of Mosul prepare to sleep on the ground as they try to enter a temporary displacement camp but are blocked by Kurdish soldiers on July 3. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

A State official offered a dire assessment Wednesday about the growing power of the group in Iraq that calls itself the Islamic State (also known as ISIS or ISIL): “It’s no longer a terrorist group,” said the department’s deputy assistant secretary of State for Iraq and Iran in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs. “It’s a full-blown army.”

Given that, asked the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, why didn’t the United States conduct drone strikes earlier?

“Americans have spent enough blood and treasure in Iraq,” Ed Royce, R-Calif. said at a hearing of his panel. “And that is exactly why the administration should have taken the opportunity to inflict decisive damage on ISIS from the air through drone strikes while its fighters were encamped in the desert months ago.”

The State Department’s Brett McGurk said that the formal request for drone strikes only came in May, and that contrary to what Royce said, “It never went up and was denied. It is still under consideration.” That answer didn’t sit well with Royce, who pointed to discussions well before then, including by embassy officials and other countries, about the need for drone strikes.

McGurk said the overall policy has been to “enable local actors to secure their sovereign space.” The key now, he said, must be to isolate ISIS from the Iraqi population and establish a “functioning federalism” in their government.

There wasn’t much confidence on the panel that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is the man who can do the job. Reps. Eliot L. Engel, a Democrat from New York, and Ted Poe, a Republican from Texas, both said he needed to go, and the “sooner the better.”

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