WASHINGTON – Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush elaborated Wednesday on his proposal to put a limited number of U.S. ground troops in combat against the Islamic State.
One day after the Florida governor told Bloomberg’s Mark Halperin that the U.S. is “going to have to have ground troops” to fight the terrorist group, Bush, speaking at The Citadel, a military college in South Carolina, said the U.S. should immediately go beyond the bombing sorties already underway in the region.
“The United States — in conjunction with our NATO allies and more Arab partners — will need to increase our presence on the ground,” Bush said.
Bush also told Halperin on Tuesday that a commitment by the U.S. need “not necessarily” be substantial. According to a prepared version of his Wednesday remarks, he believes that “the bulk of these ground troops will need to come from local forces.” Bush did not specify the exact scope for U.S. involvement beyond saying it “should be in line with what our military generals recommend.”
Bush joins a number of his Republican presidential rivals, including Ben Carson, John Kasich and Lindsey Graham, in calling for a U.S. presence on the ground, something polls indicate that a broad majority of Americans oppose, even after the terror attacks in Paris last week that killed at least 129. According to a Reuters/Ipsos Poll conducted after the attacks, 60 percent of Americans want the U.S. to intensify its confrontation with the Islamic State, but more than 75 percent oppose ground troops.
“Boots on the ground would be important, because throughout that whole Middle Eastern region we have been calling for a coalition of the people who have a vested interest,” said Carson. The retired neurosurgeon, who leads the field in some polls, had earlier opposed the move.
Graham’s office said Wednesday he plans to introduce a broad resolution authorizing the use of military force against the Islamic state “that is not limited by time, geography or means.” The South Carolina senator has long favored putting U.S. combat forces in the region; other Republicans have joined in that call since the Islamic State, which uses war-torn Syria as a base of operations, took credit for last week’s attacks.
Other candidates have been more cautious. Donald Trump, the front-runner in many polls, appeared to advocate ground troops in an August interview with NBC, but more recently, he has emphasized his proposed bombing campaign on oil refineries controlled by the group.
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio told ABC on Sunday that the U.S. should send more troops than the 50 U.S. special forces currently on the ground and step up its air campaigns but that long-term “the only way to defeat ISIS militarily is for Sunnis themselves to be the bulkhead of the fight.” Carly Fiorina has called for weapons and intelligence for U.S. allies.
Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, who is usually alone among Republican candidates in saying he believes U.S. international involvements benefit the country’s enemies, has opposed interventions against the Islamic State.