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Live Coverage of Senate Hearing on ISIS; Chuck Hagel Speaks Before Congress

Aired September 16, 2014 - 10:00   ET


CHUCK HAGEL, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: By the time all these forces arrive, there will be approximately 1,600 U.S. personnel in Iraq responding to the ISIL threat. But as the president said last week, American forces will not have a combat mission.

Instead these advisers are supporting Iraqi and Kurdish forces and supporting the government's plan to stand up Iraqi national guard units to help Sunni communities defeat ISIL.

The best counterweights to ISIL are local forces and the people of the area. And, as you know, in June, the president asked Congress for the necessary authority for DOD to train and equip moderate Syrian opposition forces and $500 million to fund this program.

The $500 million request the president made in June for this train- and-equip program reflects CENTCOM's estimate of the cost to train, equip and resupply more than 5,000 opposition forces over one year.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, I'm Carol Costello. You're watching live coverage of the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing. Testifying this morning is Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel. General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs Of Staff, will also testify.

So far two major headlines. General Martin Dempsey will say he will send U.S. military advisors into combat if he decides its necessary, which defies the president's promise of no ground troops. Second, the new mission is to destroy ISIS in Iraq, but only disrupt it in Syria.

Let's continue to listen to Secretary Hagel.

HAGEL: -- the continuing resolution it is currently now considering.

A rigorous vetting process will be critical to the success of this program. The DOD will work closely with the State Department, the intelligence community and our partners in the region to screen and vet the forces we train and equip.

We will monitor them closely to ensure that weapons do not fall into the hands of radical elements of the opposition, ISIL, the Syrian regime or other extremist groups.

There will always be risks. There will always be risks in a program like this. But we believe that risk is justified by the imperative of destroying ISIL and the necessity of having capable partners on the ground in Syria.

As we pursue this program, the United States will continue to press for a political resolution to the Syrian conflict resulting in the end of the Assad regime. Assad has lost all legitimacy to govern and has created conditions that allowed ISIL and other terrorist groups to gain ground and terrorize and slaughter the Syrian population.

The United States will not coordinate or cooperate with the Assad regime. We will also continue to counter Assad through diplomatic and economic pressure.

The third element of the president's strategy is an all-inclusive approach to preventing attacks from ISIL against the homelands of the United States and our allies.

In concert with our international partners, the United States will draw on intelligence, law enforcement, diplomatic and economic tools to cut off ISIL's funding, improve our intelligence, strengthen homeland defense, and stem the flow of foreign fighters in and out of the region.

The Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security have launched an initiative to partner with local communities to counter extremist recruiting, and the Department of Treasury's Office of Terrorism and Financial Intelligence is working to disrupt ISIL's financing and expose their activities.

The final element of the president's strategy is to continue providing humanitarian assistance to innocent civilians displaced or threatened by ISIL.

Alongside the government of Iraq, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and France, U.S. troops have already delivered life saving aid to thousands of threatened Iraqi civilians on Mount Sinjar and the Iraqi town of Amerli.

In total the U.S. military conducted 32 air drops of food and supplies providing over 818,000 pounds of aid, including nearly 50,000 gallons of water and nearly 122,000 meals ready to eat in these operations.

In addition to this assistance, last week the State Department announced an additional $48 million in aid for civilian organizations to meet the urgent needs of Iraqis displaced by ISIL. Our total humanitarian assistance to displaced Iraqis is now more than $186 million for fiscal year 2014.

The United States is also the single largest donor of humanitarian assistance for the millions of Syrians affected by the civil war. Last week Secretary Kerry announced an additional $500 million in humanitarian assistance.

Since the start of the Syrian conflict, the United States has now committed almost $3 billion in humanitarian assistance to those affected by the civil war. All four elements of this strategy require a significant commitment of resources on the part of the United States and our coalition partners. Mr. Chairman, I think everyone on this committee understands fully that this will not be an easy or a brief effort. It is complicated. We are at war with ISIL as we are with Al Qaida. But destroying ISIL will require more than military efforts alone. It will require political progress in the region, and effective partners on the ground in Iraq and Syria.

As the Congress and administration work together, we know this effort will take time. The president has outlined a clear, comprehensive and workable strategy to achieve our goals and protect our interests.

Mr. Chairman, Senator Inhofe, thank you for your continued support and that of this committee, and your partnership. Thank you.



LEVIN: Thank you.

Would you please leave -- would you please leave the room now?


LEVIN: We're asking you nicely. We're asking you nicely to please leave the room.


LEVIN: Look, we're asking you nicely. Would you please leave the room. Thank you.


LEVIN: We ask you for the last time. Thank you very much.

PROTESTERS: If the U.S. (inaudible) the way for ISIL. U.S. military will not be (inaudible) and its counterproductive.

LEVIN: General Dempsey, as soon as the noise is removed from the room...

PROTESTERS: ... war. We've had 13 years of...

LEVIN: We would ask all of you to avoid these kind of outbursts. They're not doing anybody any good, including hearing what this testimony is, and they're not doing you and whatever your cause is any good either.


LEVIN: Thank you very much. Would you please -- I'm asking you nicely to please leave the room.

PROTESTER: Please, Senator. (inaudible) the issues. Bring in (inaudible).

LEVIN: Thank you very much. Good-bye. Good-bye. Thank you.

PROTESTER: ... people's voices being heard. We need a smart senator (ph), not smart bombs.

General Dempsey?

PROTESTER: We need to end this nonsense (ph), once and for all.

LEVIN: General Dempsey?

PROTESTER: It's just breeding extremism.

GEN. MARTIN DEMPSEY, CHAIRMAN, JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: Thank you, Chairman and Ranking Member Inhofe, members of the committee. I do appreciate the opportunity to appear before you this morning.

Secretary Hagel has described in detail the elements of our strategy against ISIL, The role the United States military is taking is in my judgment appropriate.

This is an Iraq first strategy, but not an Iraq only one. Job one is empowering the Iraqi ground forces to go on the offensive, which they're already beginning on demonstrate. This requires a partnership with a credible Iraqi government which is also showing positive signs of becoming inclusive of all of its population.

Within this partnership, our advisers are intended to help the Iraqis develop a mindset for the offensive and to take actions consistent with offensive. Our military advisers will help the Iraqis conduct campaign planning, arrange for enabler and logistics support, and coordinate our coalition activities.

If we reach the point where I believe our advisers should accompany Iraq troops on attacks against specific ISIL targets, I'll recommend that to the president.

As long as ISIL enjoys the safe haven in Syria, it will remain a formidable force and a threat. So, while this work in Iraq is taking place, we will simultaneously pressure ISIL in Syria. With coalition partners and contributions, we'll -- we will begin building a force of vetted, trained moderate Syrians to take on ISIL in Syria. We will work to ensure that they have a Syrian chain of command and report to a moderate political authority.

This force will work initially at the local and community level, and help pull together Syrians who have most felt the harsh hand of ISIL.

In conjunction with that long-term effort, we will be prepared to strike ISIL targets in Syria that degrade ISIL's capabilities. This won't look like a shock-and-awe campaign, because that's simply not how ISIL is organized, but it will be a persistent and sustainable campaign. I want to emphasize that our military actions must be part of a whole-of-government effort that works to disrupt ISIL financing, interdict the movement of foreign fighters across borders and undermine the ISIL message.

Given a coalition of capable willing regional and international partners, I believe we can destroy ISIL in Iraq, restore the Iran -- correction, the Iraq-Syria border and disrupt ISIL in Syria.

ISIL will ultimately be defeated when their cloak of religious legitimacy is stripped away and the population on which they have imposed themselves reject them. Our actions are intended to move in that direction.

This will require a sustained effort over an extended period of time. It's a generational problem. And we should expect that our enemies will adapt their tactics as we adjust our approach.

As the situation in the Middle East evolves and continues to demand our attention, we're also balancing other challenges in other regions, Ebola being the most recent, along with reassuring our European allies against Russian aggression and continuing our mission in Afghanistan.

But our young men and women in uniform are doing so much more. They conduct hundreds of exercises, activities and engagements everyday, actions that deter conflict and reassure allies around the world. They are performing magnificently.

But I am growing increasingly uncomfortable that the will to provide means does not match the will to pursue ends. The secretary and I are doing what we can inside the department to bridge that gap, but we'll need your help.

If we do not depart from our present path, over time, I will have fewer military options to offer to the secretary and to the president, and that's not a position in which I want to find myself.

Thank you.

LEVIN: Thank you very much, General Dempsey.

We're going to have a six-minute first round. We have a lot of us here. We all want to have an opportunity, and then if we go around once and have a reasonable hour, we'll try to have a very short second round, but we just won't know that until we get to it.

General Dempsey, let me start by asking you for your professional military opinion of the military strategy which was announced by the president last week. Do you personally support the strategy?

DEMPSEY: I do, Chairman.

LEVIN: Can you tell us why? DEMPSEY: Because the nature of the threat is such that, as I mentioned, it will only be defeated when moderate Arab and Muslim populations in the region reject it.

And therefore, the way forward seems to me to run clearly through a coalition of Arab and Muslim partners and not through the ownership of the United States and this issue.

And so the strategy does that. It seeks to build a coalition, encourage an inclusive government to address the grievances that have caused this in the first place, it applies military -- U.S. military power where we have unique capability to do so, and over time, it allows those populations to reject ISIL.

LEVIN: And in terms of utilizing the -- on the ground, the forces that are Syrian and Iraqi rather than Western forces, is that part of the thinking at this time as well, to avoid a Western ground force in a Arab or Muslim country for the same reason that you just gave?

DEMPSEY: Well, I -- I do think that the approach to build a coalition and enable it leads me to leverage our unique capabilities, which tend to be, as I mentioned, the ability to train and plan and provide intelligence and provide air power.

As I said in my statement, however, this -- my -- my view at this point is that this coalition is the appropriate way forward. I believe that will prove true.

But if it fails to be true, and if there are threats to the United States then I, of course, would go back to the president and make a recommendation that may include the use of U.S. military ground forces.

LEVIN: Secretary Hagel, how important is it -- you've made reference to this, but I'd like you to elaborate -- that the coalition have very strong, visible participation by Arab and Muslim states?

HAGEL: Mr. Chairman, you've just reflected, in your question to General Dempsey, on the point, and I would pick up where General Dempsey left off.

This is not a West versus East issue. This is not a U.S.- European coalition against Muslim countries or a Muslim region.

It's important that the world see, especially the people in the Middle East see, that the threat is confronting them first, and all of us, needs to be addressed by the people of their region as well as all nations and all people in the world.

To have Arab Muslim nations be present and public about their efforts in this coalition helps that, and it's critically important to the ultimate success of winning against all extremist factors and factions in the Middle East, specifically ISIL.

And that same approach of having the force, the -- the people of these countries basically purge the strand of Islam that is so poisonous, that is trying to take over in their countries, leads, I gather, to one argument for using indigenous national forces on the ground rather than outside and particularly, Western forces.

Yes. I said in my statement, Mr. Chairman, that the most significant powerful force against extremism in the Middle East are the people themselves who will not accept this kind of barbarity and brutally. The Muslims of the world know that -- what ISIL represents in no way is what their religion, what their ethnicity, what their background represents.

And to have local forces be involved, supported by local people, is the most significant thing I think we can do as we support them, as we are doing and will continue to do in every way to defeat ISIL and -- and other extremist threats.

LEVIN: I believe that you've testified that the goal is to -- the equip and training of Syrian people, that the goal is to equip and train about 5,000 in one year.

Now how is that, first of all, going to match up against the ISIL numbers, and -- well, let me just start with that one.

HAGEL: Well, as I have said and the president has said and General Dempsey has said and I think in our briefings here, in our closed session briefings we've had with members of the Senate and the House and our staff here last week -- this week, 5,000 is a beginning, Mr. Chairman. This is part of the reason this effort is going to be a long-term effort.

But we will do it right. We will be able to train and equip these forces through our ability to give them tactical -- give them strategic guidance and leadership, the kind of equipment they need, where they can move not just as bands of a few people but as legitimate forces.

5,000 alone is not going to be able to turn the tide. We recognize that on this side.

On the ISIL side, on different estimates that continue to come out, those estimates float, Mr. Chairman, because it is hard to pinpoint at any one time exactly what the strength of ISIL is.

We know it's significant. We know because of their successes over the last few months. They have picked up significant support.

We also know a lot of that support is forced support. You will either be part of this or your family's killed or you will be.

So it is an imperfect process. But the 5,000 per year -- and we may do better, we might be able to do better (inaudible), but we don't want to overstate or over-promise, because we want the right people -- are part of the overall strategy that I articulated here as outlined by the president.

LEVIN: Thank you very much.

Senator Inhofe.


I would ask that you turn the maps over. This is just for a reference. We put this together with the help of the military, with the help of some think tanks.

And the colors represented there, the orange would be what is under ISIL control right now. The -- the gray would be the -- the Kurdish control, and then the brown would be the ambitions of -- of -- of ISIL.

Do you look at that map and find any problem with it, either one of you?

DEMPSEY: Actually, Senator, in terms of their ambition, I think that's probably understating (OFF-MIKE).

I think if left unaddressed, they would aspire to restore the -- the ancient kingdom of al-Sham, which includes the current state of Israel and runs all the way down to Kuwait.

But that's...

INHOFE: Yeah, we're trying to be conservative on this, but -- but let people know this a big area, is a major -- Secretary Hagel, do you have a problem with this?

HAGEL: No, I think General Dempsey stated it exactly right.

INHOFE: Right.

OK. The -- according to some of the reports, the U.S. intelligence agencies believe that ISIL does not represent the -- the -- immediate threat to the United States.

In fact, Daniel Benjamin, who was President Obama's top counterterrorism adviser during his first term, he said -- this is a quote. He said, "Members of the Cabinet and top military officers all over the place describing the threat in lurid terms that are just not justified."

And I appreciate, Secretary Hagel, the statement that you made when you said that ISIS poses, quote, "an imminent threat to every interest we have, whether it's in Iraq or anyplace else."

Do you still agree with that statement?

HAGEL: I do.

INHOFE: And do you, General Dempsey?

DEMPSEY: Yes, I do, Senator. INHOFE: You know, one of the things that I was glad to see is that the American people, there has been a wake-up call. Last week there was a poll that was the CNN poll that 70 percent of the people in America believe it's a threat to our homeland.

Then yesterday another one came out. This was a "Wall Street Journal" poll, the same thing, 70 percent of the people. So I think that wake-up call has taken.

Now, when President Obama -- and this gets back to some of the statements you made in your -- in your opening remarks -- he said, "Our objective is clear, we would degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL through a comprehensive and sustained counter (inaudible) strategy."

Now it's clear and we've talked about this side, this is an army. And I outlined in my opening statement the six basic differences between Al Qaeda and what we're facing right now.

Do you generally agree with that?

DEMPSEY: What I generally agree with, Senator, is that they have been using conventional tactics until such time as we applied air power. And that...


DEMPSEY: ... they're beginning to adapt now.

INHOFE: So now you don't agree that that strategy that we would impose against terrorists, some group is -- was appropriate today with looking in terms of the giant army that we're facing?

DEMPSEY: No, I agree we have to build the capability of the ISF and the Pesh to address it conventionally while also including a counterterrorism component in our strategy.


Secretary Hagel, I'd like to get in the record here as to who is in charge of the war, because we hear people like Ambassador Beecroft and the State Department saying that they are -- a lot of the control. My -- if it's CENTCOM Commander Austin, then I feel a lot better about it.

Is that who is in control of this?

Is now military?

HAGEL: Yes. As I said in my opening statement, Senator, I tried to frame some of that -- of that up in -- for example, what I mentioned about General Allen's role, initial role as a coordinating role.

But I also said that he would work directly in that coordination with General Austin as is the CENTCOM commander. That's why President Obama will be with the CENTCOM commander in Tampa tomorrow to go over the plan.

INHOFE: Sure, sure.

Well, Mr. Secretary, I -- my concern is I don't want people to be under the delusion that this is just another effort, another terrorist effort that we're going to be -- going to be pursuing.

Asked by a reporter on September 11th to define victory against ISIL, the White House press secretary said I didn't bring my Webster's dictionary with me up here.

Secretary Hagel, you didn't bring yours, either.

Can you define what victory looks like in the United States...


HAGEL: When we...


HAGEL: ... well, I believe victory would be when we complete the mission of degrading and destroying, defeating ISIL, just as the president laid out that was his objective.

INHOFE: Yes. Well, I understand that. It's not -- I got a different interpretation when I listened to the speech when he said on the fight against ISIL, quote, "It would not involve American combat troops fighting on the soil. American forces do not have a combat mission."

In your opinion, let me ask you two question, General Dempsey.

In your opinion, are the pilots dropping bombs in Iraq as they're now doing a direct combat mission?

And, secondly, will U.S. forces be prepared to provide combat search and rescue if a pilot gets shot down and when they put boots on the ground to make that rescue successful?

DEMPSEY: Yes and yes.

INHOFE: Good. Well, I appreciate that.

And then the last thing, the last question I have, because I know I've gone beyond my time, we've been complaining about what's happened with the funding and now we're looking at the sequestration and all of this.

In light of all of this that has occurred since we originally started talking about the funding that would be necessary, do you think we're adequately funded now to take care of all these things that we -- I've stated in my opening statement and you have also agreed to?

Where are we on our funding, are we adequate? HAGEL: Well, two answers to your question. No is the first basic answer. But the budget that we will be coming up here presenting, as you know in a few months, will contain what we believe will is going to be required to carry forward for the longer term this effort.

But in the short term, this is why we're asking for the $500 million authority for the train and equip. Plus, as you know, the president had asked a few months ago for a $5 billion counterterrorism partnership fund plus $1 billion European initiative fund as well.

So I think what General Dempsey said in his closing comments in his statement probably summarized pretty well, as you have noted, all of the different pressures that are now coming down on this country, residing a good amount of it at the Defense Department.

One of the things that we've been warning about is sequestration over the last year and a half. So we will come forward and our budget for the next fiscal year with some new requests.

INHOFE: (inaudible)...


DEMPSEY: In fact, could I just elaborate?

On behalf of the Joint Chiefs, because we've discussed this frequently about our ability to balance capability, capacity and readiness, last year we said that we -- the size of the force that was projected over the course of the POM, over the future year defense plan, was adequate to the task if the assumptions made were valid.

And some of the assumptions we made were about commitments and some of the assumptions we made were about our ability to get paid compensation, health care changes, infrastructure changes and weapons systems.

We didn't get any of those actually, or very few of them, and the commitments have increased. So this -- we do have a problem. And it will -- I think it will become clear through the fall.

And it's not a problem that we can solve just with OCO. That is to say the operational contingency funds. There a base budget issue here, too, we have to get...


INHOFE: I know that's true. I know that's true. But you mentioned the chiefs and Odierno and the other chiefs have come and testified in this room before us, that even before these things erupted, it was not adequate. As we all know, risk increases when adequacy is not met.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

LEVIN: Thank you very much. We have a quorum here now and so I'm going to ask the committee to consider the list of 2,458 (ph) pending military nominations.

They have been before the committee the required length of time. Is there a motion to...


LEVIN: ... report the nominations?

Is there a second?

(UNKNOWN): Second.

LEVIN: All in favor say aye.

Opposed, nay.

Motion carries. Thank you very much.

Senator Reed?

SEN. JACK REED (D), RHODE ISLAND: Well, Thank you, Mr. Chairman. And gentlemen, thank you for your testimony.

General Dempsey, we've had a debate going on and on about no boots on the ground, some boots on the ground, no boots on the ground but (inaudible).

It might help us all if you could clarify precisely what our forces are doing in Iraq today. And you also suggested that if situation changes, you might recommendation or come to us with recommendations that would enhance the mission or change the mission.

But can you clarify what they're doing?

DEMPSEY: Yes, I can. Thanks for asking, Senator.

The -- first of all, I think everyone should be aware when we talk about combat forces, we -- that's all we grow. We -- when we bring a young man or woman in the military, they come in to be a combat soldier or a combat Marine or a combat -- we don't bring them in to be anything other than combat capable.

But that's different than how we use them and in the case of our contributions in Iraq right now, the airmen, as the -- as the ranking member mentioned, are very much in a combat role. The folks on the ground are in a -- very much a combat advisory role. They are not participating in direct combat. There is no intention for them to do so.

I've mentioned, though, that if I found that circumstance evolving, that I would, of course, change my recommendation. An example: if a -- if the Iraqi security forces and the Pesh were at some point ready to retake Mosul, a mission that I would find to be extraordinarily complex, it could very well be part of that particular mission to provide close combat advising or accompanying for that mission.

But for the day-to-day activities that I anticipate will evolve over time, I don't see it to be necessary right now.

REED: One of the presumptions, and I'll just raise it, would be because we are using air power that there is sufficient capacity in the Iraqi forces to coordinate that air power on the ground?

Is that the issue you're looking at or that's an issue...


DEMPSEY: No, we have, Senator. And we've come -- let me use the Mosul Dam operation as a great example of that.