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If Another Terror Attack Hit U.S., Defense Secretary Wouldn't Change ISIS Strategy

If there was another attack on the United States perhaps on the scale of Paris casualties, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter was asked at today’s Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, would he go to President Obama recommending changes in their current strategy against ISIS?

“If I had more to recommend to him to accelerate the defeat of ISIL in Syria and Iraq, I would be doing that now,” Carter replied.

The Pentagon chief told lawmakers that the government has been fighting terrorist groups “since 9/11 and actually before, and we have to do that with respect to ISIL today.”

“We’re just asking the question, what’s the endgame this time?” asked Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.). “Is it going to repeat what we’ve done before?… You know, we started out with the Taliban, we heard about first, then al-Qaeda, then all the spinoffs of al-Qaeda, and then ISIS came about… when you cut the head off, you can’t kill the snake.”

Carter said a political solution is needed to replace Assad with a coalition that includes moderate opposition forces, and getting Russia and Iran “turned around.”

Later in the hearing, the Defense secretary said the reason coalition forces just now started striking ISIS oil convoys was because “what made it possible was intelligence that we didn’t have before, and that is what allowed us to identify those parts of the oil infrastructure that are being used to fund ISIL.”

“And we greatly increased our insight into that infrastructure in recent months, and this is one of the ways that, as our intelligence — which I have to say when I started out had a lot of improvement to be done in there in terms of collection and graininess of data and so forth — is getting a lot better. And that is also a huge enabler because when those JTACs call in airstrikes, it’s based upon an intelligence foundation. That’s getting better, that is what made the critical difference in our ability to go after the energy infrastructure,” Carter said.

In regards to San Bernardino, the Defense leader stressed that the attack illustrates why stopping the recruitment of Americans “is no kidding important.”

Carter agreed with an earlier statement from Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford that ISIS is not contained.

“I think that we are building momentum against ISIL,” he said, citing “the trajectory of that success all around Iraq and Syria, some actions we’re taking in Libya.”

“It is not my principal responsibility, but I met yesterday with the secretary of Homeland Security, the director of the FBI, the director of National Intelligence, and other officials to talk about what we could do more to strengthen the defense of the homeland as the Department of Defense. But in our principal responsibility, which is to take the fight to Syria and Iraq, I’ve described the actions that we have taken, just as I’ve appeared last time, and I think they are building momentum.”

Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) slammed the administration for having no timeline to “take out the caliphate.”

“What encourages them, Mr. Secretary, is success. And they have a pretty serious record here of success just in the last several — couple of months since you were here,” McCain said. “So I do not understand, why in the world, you would not want, as General Keane, the architect of the surge, the successful surge and others — military leaders, including this morning, former Chief of Staff of the United States Army — a small component of American forces with an international force, which could be, if the United States had the credibility, could be gathered. And then go in and take out this caliphate.”

“…There’s 20 to 30,000 of them. They are not giants.”