Presidential candidate Bush wants increased US presence on ground in Iraq

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CHARLESTON, S.C. (Reuters) - Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush called for an increased U.S. troop presence on the ground in Iraq as part of a global coalition to take on Islamic State militants, shifting to a more hawkish stance in response to the Paris attacks.

Bush's decision, which will inevitably lead to comparisons to the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq ordered by his brother, former President George W. Bush, was reached after the attacks in Paris, where 129 people were killed by gunfire and bombs.

"Radical Islamic terrorists have declared war on the Western world. Their aim is our total destruction," Bush told a conference hall filled with gray-uniformed cadets at The Citadel, a military college in Charleston.

Struggling to break into the top tier of candidates in the Republican field with Donald Trump and Ben Carson, Bush used an expansive national security address to present himself as ready to be commander in chief, saying the Paris attacks are a reminder that "we are living in serious times that require serious leadership."

Bush was vague on how many ground troops the United States should contribute to an international coalition that he says he would build if elected president next November.

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Presidential candidate Bush wants increased US presence on ground in Iraq
Republican presidential candidate, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush speaks at his South Carolina Republican presidential primary rally in Columbia, S.C., Saturday, Feb. 20, 2016. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
Republican presidential candidate, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush during speak a campaign stop Thursday, Feb. 11, 2016, at University of South Carolina campus at Sumter, S.C. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
Republican presidential candidate, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush throws a snowball following a campaign event, Monday, Feb. 8, 2016, in Nashua, N.H. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)
Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush gestures for people to take their seats as he arrives for a campaign event in Salem, N.H., Sunday Feb. 7, 2016. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
NORTH CHARLESTON, SC - JANUARY 15: Former Republican presidential candidate and South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham (R) announces his endorsement of Jeb Bush for president on January 15, 2016 in North Charleston, South Carolina. Graham dropped his bid for the presidency last month. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
NORTH CHARLESTON, SC - JANUARY 14: Republican presidential candidates (L-R) New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and Jeb Bush laugh during a commercial break during the Fox Business Network Republican presidential debate at the North Charleston Coliseum and Performing Arts Center on January 14, 2016 in North Charleston, South Carolina. The sixth Republican debate is held in two parts, one main debate for the top seven candidates, and another for three other candidates lower in the current polls. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
GRINNELL, IA - JANUARY 12: Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush greets people during a town hall at the Brownell's Firearms Manufacturing company on January 12, 2016 in Grinnell, Iowa. Bush continues his quest to become the Republican presidential nominee. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
HIALEAH, FL - DECEMBER 28: Republican presidential candidate and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush holds a meet and greet at Chico's Restaurant on December 28, 2015 in Hialeah, Florida. Mr. Bush continues to campaign for his parties' nomination as the presidential candidate. Credit: MPI10 / MediaPunch/IPX
Republican presidential candidate, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush speaks during a Forum Club of the Palm Beaches event, Monday, Dec. 28, 2015, at the Palm Beach County Convention Center in West Palm Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/Terry Renna)
Republican presidential candidate former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush speaks during a campaign stop at the Devine Millimet Law Firm Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2015, in Manchester, N.H. (AP Photo/Jim Cole)
Republican presidential candidate former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush looks on during the singing of the National Anthem before speaking at the Clinton County Republicans Annual Fall Event, Monday, Nov. 30, 2015, in Goose Lake, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Republican presidential candidate former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush greets audience members after speaking at the Scott County Republican Party's Ronald Reagan Dinner, Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2015, in Davenport, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
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Republican presidential candidate former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush stretches before speaking during a campaign stop Wednesday, Sept. 30, 2015, in Bedford, N.H. (AP Photo/Jim Cole)
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Republican presidential candidate and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush poses for a photograph with Katie Wong during a tailgate party before an NCAA college football game between Georgia and South Carolina on Saturday, Sept. 19, 2015, in Athens, Ga. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)
Republican presidential candidate former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush speaks during a town hall meeting at The Music Man Square, Monday, Sept. 21, 2015, in Mason City, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Republican presidential candidate, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush gestures and pounds his fist into his hand while speaking at a town hall meeting in Salem, N.H., Thursday, Sept. 10, 2015. (AP Photo/Cheryl Senter)
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Republican presidential candidate, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, right, talks with students in a third grade class as teacher Judy Elder, left, looks on before a town hall at La Progresiva Presbyterian School, Tuesday, Sept. 1, 2015, in Miami. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
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Republican presidential candidate, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, throws a baseball on the midway during a visit to the Iowa State Fair, Friday, Aug. 14, 2015, in Des Moines, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
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Republican presidential candidate, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, speaks at the Florida State University Conference Center in Tallahassee, Fla., Monday, July 20, 2015. (AP Photo/Mark Wallheiser)
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President Barack Obama has relied heavily on U.S. air strikes against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria but recently sent 50 more special operations forces to help identify targets. He has said a massive reintroduction of U.S. ground troops in Iraq would be a mistake.

Bush said while air power is essential, it is not enough.

"The United States -- in conjunction with our NATO allies and more Arab partners -- will need to increase our presence on the ground," he said.

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The effort will require "overwhelming force," Bush said, to take out Islamic State's self-proclaimed caliphate in parts of Syria and Iraq.

The scope of any increased U.S. presence on the ground should be in line with what U.S. military generals recommend and the bulk of the ground troops should come from "local forces that we have built workable relationships with," Bush said.

Iraq is a sensitive subject for Bush, given that both his brother and his father, former President George H.W. Bush, invaded the country.

Jeb Bush's plan calls for maintaining the U.S. prison in Guantanamo, Cuba, that his brother used for foreign terrorism suspects and which Obama is trying to close before leaving office in January 2017. The prison currently has 107 inmates.

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Bush is eager to make an impact in a Republican race that in some respects has been leaving him behind. He is in single digits in many polls with Republican voters more enthusiastic about non-politician candidates Donald Trump and Ben Carson.

Bush's belief is that voters eventually will come around to a serious, policy-minded candidate like him but with the Iowa caucuses to kick off the 2016 election season on Feb. 1, his plan has not helped him in polls.

A Reuters-Ipsos poll found on Tuesday that 33 percent of Republican voters felt Trump would be the strongest candidate to deal with terrorism, followed by Senator Marco Rubio at 17 percent. Carson and Bush were tied at about 9 percent.

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