McCain and Graham say ISIS and Assad are 'inextricably connected' in call for 'greater military action' in Syria

Republican Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham are painting ISIS and the Assad regime as “inextricably connected” in a call for “greater military action” in Syria.

The pair of senators who sit on the Senate Armed Services Committee released a joint statement on Tuesday, saying that there would never be a diplomatic solution for the Syrian civil war as long Assad remained in power.

“Our strategy cannot presume to separate the fight against ISIL from the Syrian people’s fight against the Assad regime,” they wrote, using another acronym for the self-proclaimed Islamic State group. “They are inextricably connected. Assad is a puppet of Iran, and as long as he continues to slaughter his own people, it will be impossible to destroy the radical terrorist groups that occupy Syria and the region, and the war will never end. Nor will the threat posed by these groups to our nation.”

They offered praise for President Donald Trump’s recent cruise missile strike against the regime, which came in response to Assad’s use of chemical weapons last week. According to Defence Secretary Jim Mattis, it was meant to deter future chemical weapons use, while showing the world that the US would “not passively stand by” when such atrocities are carried out.

Neither Mattis or Trump have said the strategy in Syria — which has been focused solely on the defeat of ISIS — would change in light of the strikes. In an interview on Tuesday, Trump said “we’re not going into Syria” when asked of any possible escalation beyond the small US footprint that is already there engaged in the anti-ISIS fight.

Still, McCain and Graham want more. In their statement, they urge Trump to take steps such as grounding the Syrian air force, and to establish safe zones for refugees. The US military, however, needs to be weary of how Russia or Iran potentially respond to such moves, given the level of volatility in the region after the cruise missile strikes.

“I’m confident the Russians will act in their own best interests, and there’s nothing in their best interests to say they want this situation to go out of control,” Mattis said Tuesday.

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