At today’s Arlington National Cemetery Memorial Day observance, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said “troops of such caliber demand great leaders, and there’s no doubt they have one in our commander in chief.”
“I see that every day,” continued Carter, who assumed his post in February. “He knows well the challenges we must face, the obligations we must meet, and the opportunities we must seize in order to keep our nation safe and to make a better world for our children. And I see that he cares deeply about the safety, welfare, and dignity of our men and women in uniform and their families.”
“For all that, and so much more, I am tremendously proud to serve as his secretary of Defense,” he added.
Carter named Fallujah among the battles that left “a legacy that has made our military the finest fighting force the world has ever known.”
A decade ago in the first and second battles of Fallujah, 134 coalition soldiers lost their lives. The city fell to ISIS in February 2014, and nearby Ramadi fell this month.
“On a day set aside for Americans to honor and remember those who perished while serving our country, our obligation and our opportunity are one and the same. Our obligation is to give voice to the fallen, honor them, and share their stories of sacrifice and heroism,” Carter said. “Our opportunity is to use this day to inspire new generations to understand the freedom they have been given, to grasp how and why it is theirs, and to dedicate themselves to pass it on to generations unborn.”
President Obama laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns this morning before the Arlington ceremony attended by about 5,000, including Gold Star families.
“For many of us, this Memorial Day is especially meaningful; it is the first since our war in Afghanistan came to an end. Today is the first Memorial Day in 14 years that the United States is not engaged in a major ground war,” Obama said. “So on this day, we honor the sacrifice of the thousands of American servicemembers — men and women — who gave their lives since 9/11, including more than 2,200 American patriots who made the ultimate sacrifice in Afghanistan.”
Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) said on the Senate floor Friday that “we should say a special prayer for the parents of young Americans who fought and died in Iraq and Afghanistan and the current wars today.”
“We had a tragedy with the fall of Fallujah, we had a tragedy with the fall of Ramadi, we need those parents to know their sons and daughters did not die in vain,” Isakson said.
Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii), an Iraq war veteran, told CNN on Sunday that Obama is wrong when he says the U.S. is not losing the war against ISIS.
“Clearly, ISIS has gained momentum, in particular over the last week, as we have seen the ground that they have gained both in Iraq and Syria,” Gabbard said. “…You have this solution. You have got the Kurds, the Kurdish Peshmerga, and you have Sunni tribesmen who are literally begging — I met with a Sunni tribal leader last week in Washington — they are begging for arms, heavy weapons, ammunition, to be able to fight against ISIS to protect their families and their tribal lands and their territories, but still to this point, both the U.S. and the central Iraqi government is failing to provide that, and, therefore, ISIS continues to be able to grow.”
Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.), also an Iraq veteran, said “you are not losing and you are not winning because we are not really engaged in this fight.”
“In essence, what the president did was say, look, we need to destroy ISIS, until that takes boots on the ground, in which case the existence of boots on the ground is worse than the existence of ISIS,” Kinzinger said.
“This is not just a situation where, if the house catches on fire, it will burn down and then we just look at a burned-down house. This is now a house on fire in a densely packed neighborhood, where this is going to spread to other places.”
The White House said Vice President Joe Biden called Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi today “to reaffirm U.S. support for the Iraqi government’s fight against ISIL.”
“The vice president recognized the enormous sacrifice and bravery of Iraqi forces over the past eighteen months in Ramadi and elsewhere,” the administration readout said. “The vice president welcomed the Council of Ministers’ unanimous decision on May 19th to mobilize additional troops, honor those who have fallen, and prepare for counter-attack operations. The vice president pledged full U.S. support in these and other Iraqi efforts to liberate territory from ISIL, including the expedited provision of U.S. training and equipment to address the threat posed by ISIL’s use of truck bombs.