Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates criticized President Obama’s goal to destroy the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) jihadist group as “unrealistic” and “unattainable.”
“The president has set an ambitious and, I think under current circumstances, an unrealistic goal when he talks about our intent being to destroy ISIS,” Gates told NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday. “With the means he has approved so far, I think that’s an unattainable objective.”
Gates, who served as Pentagon chief under Presidents George W. Bush and Obama, proclaimed that deploying ground troops to assist the U.S.-led airstrikes against ISIS will be necessary to defeat the jihadist group.
“I think that the airstrikes have contributed to containing them, but we’re a long way, in my view, from being in a position to roll them back or push them out of Iraq,” he said. “What I’m talking about here is potentially a few hundred troops, not thousands or tens of thousands.”
U.S. troops should focus on preventing ISIS from expanding and denying the group “the ability to hang onto territory.”
ISIS has reportedly spread outside the swaths of territory it controls in Iraq and Syria, into the Khorasan territory, which encompasses large areas in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and parts of the surrounding countries.
During his State of the Union address on January 20, Obama declared that “in Iraq and Syria, American leadership — including our military power — is stopping ISIL’s advance.”
However, days prior to Obama’s speech, The Daily Beast, citing military officials from the Obama administration, reported that ISIS was gaining ground despite U.S.-led airstrikes.
Gates was the first secretary of Defense to serve under Obama, out of three. The president’s defense policy has been criticized by his former secretaries.
Chuck Hagel, the now outgoing Pentagon chief, said he felt pressured by the White House to release prisoners from the U.S. military detention center in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Hagel was forced to resign under pressure from Obama. The president has chosen former Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter to replace him. Carter is awaiting Senate confirmation.