Sen. Bill Nelson, just back from a trip that took him to Turkey and Ukraine, says he will raise the issue of the use of U.S. force in Syria against the Sunni insurgent group Islamic State when the Senate returns from vacation and takes up the 2015 defense spending bill.
He also said it is conceivable that U.S. special operations forces could be used to help train Ukrainian military far from the battlefield.
“There’s a legitimate question as to whether the President has the legal authority to go into Syria, unless he determines that American lives are directly threatened,” said Nelson, speaking to a small group of reporters at the Tampa Convention Center before the U.S. Special Operations Command change of command ceremony. “Not only do we know now that lives are threatened — an American was beheaded and the other journalist ISIS holds, his parents are from Miami, I think the President can make the legal case that he has the authority.” However, said Nelson, “Since there would be no question, that’s why I will bring this issue up when we bring the defense bill up.”
Nelson, referring to journalist James Foley, whose beheading was released last week in a YouTube video, and journalist Steven Sotloff, whose mother just made an impassioned plea for her son’s release, said he will likely join forces with Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona in his efforts.
“We’ve got a real problem with ISIS,” said Nelson, using an alternate name of the breakaway al-Qaida affiliate. “And we need to go get ‘em now because if we don’t now, we’ll have to deal with them in the future. “This is a group that knows no boundaries of human decency.”
Nelson said the airstrike campaign, initiated by U.S. Central Command on Aug. 8, has been effective in stopping the group’s advance in Irbil and near the Mosul Dam. Centcom officials on Thursday announced that to date, there have been 106 airstrikes across Iraq.
“But the head of the snake is in Syria and if you want to kill the snake, you need to cut off its head. We can do this, and I think the announcement two days ago by the administration that they are putting in surveillance flights, manned and unmanned, is a clear step in that direction.”
The next step, said Nelson, “is to get the pinpoints through our intelligence of who we need to ... put in the cross hairs.”
To protect U.S. or allied warplanes and drones from the Syrian government’s robust antiaircraft systems, Nelson said that the U.S. would have to “jam Syrian SAM missiles” and be prepared to recover any downed manned aircraft.
Nelson said that one reason to take action against IS in Syria is that they have threatened to “raise the black flag in the White House” and have every intention of trying to pull off an attack on the U.S.
While not advocating for U.S. boots on the ground in either Syria or Eastern Ukraine, where the government is battling rebels and say the Russians have invaded, Nelson said that it is conceivable for U.S. special operations forces to train Ukrainian military in the western part of the country, far from the battlefield.
Nelson said that the biggest need expressed by Ukraine’s leaders was for intelligence. But with their military “riddled” with Russian spies, Nelson said that would be a risky proposition, but one “we are going to have to take. We can lessen that risk by giving them tactical intelligence on the battlefield.”