Rep. Adam Schiff, left, says the White House’s rhetoric on the Islamic State should ring “alarm bells.” (Photo: Bryan Dozier/The Christian Science Monitor)
A senior House of Representatives Democrat said Tuesday that the White House’s description of supposed progress in the war against the Islamic State should ring “alarm bells,” and called the fall of the city of Ramadi to the extremists “a very serious and significant setback.”
“I don’t think we’re losing the war, but I don’t think we’re making tremendous progress either,” Rep. Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, told reporters at a breakfast organized by the Christian Science Monitor.
The California Democrat had been asked about White House deputy press secretary Eric Schultz’s recitation last week of the number of U.S. and partner airstrikes to counter a reporter’s question about whether the Islamic State is winning.
“I wouldn’t use the metrics of the number of sorties or bombs dropped or anything, and to the degree you hear administration officials use those metrics, alarm bells should be going off,” Schiff cautioned.
The lawmaker also warned against using measures like the amount of territory controlled by the Islamic State, also known as ISIL or ISIS, because in some cases the group has been replaced by other extremist militias hostile to the United States.
“We have to really delve behind the numbers,” said Schiff, who warned that the conflict was on a “long and hard and not a straight-line path.”
Even before the fall of Ramadi, the largest city in the pivotal Iraqi province of Anbar, the White House had struggled to paint a hopeful picture of the war on ISIL. On Friday, Roll Call reporter Steven Dennis pointedly asked Schultz, “Are we losing this war?”
The spokesman responded that 60 countries were part of the coalition to beat back ISIL, and cited as evidence of progress in the campaign the fact that the United States and partner nations have carried out 3,900 airstrikes, including 2,400 in Iraq and about 1,500 in Syria.
“We’ve taken out thousands of ISIL’s fighters in over 6,000 specific ISIL targets, including numerous commanders. We’ve taken out thousands of ISIL’s fighters, numerous commander, over 1,700 vehicles and tanks, over 170 artillery and mortar positions, nearly 4,000 fighting positions, checkpoints, buildings, bunkers, staging areas, and barracks. Airstrikes have also [damaged] over 150 oil and gas facilities,” Schultz said.
“As a result of this effort, ISIL’s momentum has, indeed, been blunted. Its ability to mass and maneuver a force is degraded, its leadership cells pressured or eliminated, its command and control and supply lines severed,” the spokesman continued.
Schultz added: “Despite these successes, the president has made clear that there’s going to be ebbs and flows in this fight.”