US senators call for 20,000 troops in Syria and Iraq

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Obama Changes Afghan Strategy; 5,500 Troops Staying Past 2016

BAGHDAD (Reuters) -- Two senior U.S. senators called on Sunday for Washington to nearly triple military force levels in Iraq to 10,000 and send an equal number of troops to Syria as part of a multinational ground force to counter Islamic State in both countries.

Republicans John McCain and Lindsey Graham criticized President Barack Obama's incremental Islamic State strategy, which relies on airstrikes and modest support to local ground forces in Iraq and Syria, and said the need for greater U.S. involvement was underlined by this month's Paris attacks.

"The aerial campaign is not turning the tide of battle," said Graham who is seeking his party's presidential nomination.

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US senators call for 20,000 troops in Syria and Iraq
TO GO WITH AFGHANISTAN-US-ARMY-CONFLICT-FOCUS BY GUILLAUME DECAMME In this photograph taken on August 13, 2015, US army soldiers walk as a NATO helicopter flies overhead at coalition force Forward Operating Base (FOB) Connelly in the Khogyani district in the eastern province of Nangarhar. From his watchtower in insurgency-wracked eastern Afghanistan, US army Specialist Josh Whitten doesn't have much to say about his Afghan colleagues. 'They don't come up here anymore, because they used to mess around with our stuff. 'Welcome to Forward Operating Base Connelly, where US troops are providing training and tactical advice to the 201st Afghan army corps as they take on the Taliban on the battlefield. AFP PHOTO / Wakil Kohsar (Photo credit should read WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP/Getty Images)
TO GO WITH AFGHANISTAN-US-ARMY-CONFLICT-FOCUS BY GUILLAUME DECAMME In this photograph taken on August 14, 2015, US army soldiers load ammunition into rifles during a military exercise inside coalition force Forward Operating Base (FOB) Connelly in the Khogyani district in the eastern province of Nangarhar. From his watchtower in insurgency-wracked eastern Afghanistan, US army Specialist Josh Whitten doesn't have much to say about his Afghan colleagues. 'They don't come up here anymore, because they used to mess around with our stuff. 'Welcome to Forward Operating Base Connelly, where US troops are providing training and tactical advice to the 201st Afghan army corps as they take on the Taliban on the battlefield. AFP PHOTO / Wakil Kohsar (Photo credit should read WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP/Getty Images)
US soldiers part of NATO patrol during the final day of a month long anti-Taliban operation by the Afghan National Army (ANA) in various parts of eastern Nangarhar province, at an Afghan National Army base in Khogyani district on August 30, 2015. Afghan security forces launched a joint anti-militant operation in three districts, killing over 150 armed insurgents and wounding 112 others with 13 security personnel killed and three others were wounded in the past 30 days, Afghan National Army Commander Zaman Waziri said. AFP PHOTO / Noorullah Shirzada (Photo credit should read Noorullah Shirzada/AFP/Getty Images)
TO GO WITH AFGHANISTAN-US-ARMY-CONFLICT-FOCUS BY GUILLAUME DECAMME In this photograph taken on August 14, 2015, Afghan National Army (ANA) soldiers are served lunch at a kitchen inside a base in the Khogyani districtin the eastern province of Nangarhar. From his watchtower in insurgency-wracked eastern Afghanistan, US army Specialist Josh Whitten doesn't have much to say about his Afghan colleagues. 'They don't come up here anymore, because they used to mess around with our stuff. 'Welcome to Forward Operating Base Connelly, where US troops are providing training and tactical advice to the 201st Afghan army corps as they take on the Taliban on the battlefield. AFP PHOTO / Wakil Kohsar (Photo credit should read WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP/Getty Images)
TO GO WITH AFGHANISTAN-US-ARMY-CONFLICT-FOCUS BY GUILLAUME DECAMME In this photograph taken on August 14, 2015, US army soldiers fire during a military exercise inside coalition force Forward Operating Base (FOB) Connelly in the Khogyani district in the eastern province of Nangarhar. From his watchtower in insurgency-wracked eastern Afghanistan, US army Specialist Josh Whitten doesn't have much to say about his Afghan colleagues. 'They don't come up here anymore, because they used to mess around with our stuff. 'Welcome to Forward Operating Base Connelly, where US troops are providing training and tactical advice to the 201st Afghan army corps as they take on the Taliban on the battlefield. AFP PHOTO / Wakil Kohsar (Photo credit should read WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP/Getty Images)
TO GO WITH AFGHANISTAN-US-ARMY-CONFLICT-FOCUS BY GUILLAUME DECAMME In this photograph taken on August 12, 2015, a US army soldier stands guard at an Afghan National Army (ANA) base in the Khogyani district in the eastern province of Nangarhar. From his watchtower in insurgency-wracked eastern Afghanistan, US army Specialist Josh Whitten doesn't have much to say about his Afghan colleagues. 'They don't come up here anymore, because they used to mess around with our stuff. 'Welcome to Forward Operating Base Connelly, where US troops are providing training and tactical advice to the 201st Afghan army corps as they take on the Taliban on the battlefield. AFP PHOTO / Wakil Kohsar (Photo credit should read WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP/Getty Images)
TO GO WITH AFGHANISTAN-US-ARMY-CONFLICT-FOCUS BY GUILLAUME DECAMME In this photograph taken on August 12, 2015, US army personnel keep watch at coalition force Forward Operating Base (FOB) Connelly in the Khogyani district in the eastern province of Nangarhar. From his watchtower in insurgency-wracked eastern Afghanistan, US army Specialist Josh Whitten doesn't have much to say about his Afghan colleagues. 'They don't come up here anymore, because they used to mess around with our stuff. 'Welcome to Forward Operating Base Connelly, where US troops are providing training and tactical advice to the 201st Afghan army corps as they take on the Taliban on the battlefield. AFP PHOTO / Wakil Kohsar (Photo credit should read WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP/Getty Images)
TO GO WITH AFGHANISTAN-US-ARMY-CONFLICT-FOCUS BY GUILLAUME DECAMME In this photograph taken on August 12, 2015, US army soldiers play basketball at coalition force Forward Operating Base (FOB) Connelly in the Khogyani district in the eastern province of Nangarhar. From his watchtower in insurgency-wracked eastern Afghanistan, US army Specialist Josh Whitten doesn't have much to say about his Afghan colleagues. 'They don't come up here anymore, because they used to mess around with our stuff. 'Welcome to Forward Operating Base Connelly, where US troops are providing training and tactical advice to the 201st Afghan army corps as they take on the Taliban on the battlefield. AFP PHOTO / Wakil Kohsar (Photo credit should read WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP/Getty Images)
TO GO WITH AFGHANISTAN-US-ARMY-CONFLICT-FOCUS BY GUILLAUME DECAMME In this photograph taken on August 14, 2015, a US army soldier and military dog keep watch as Afghan National Army (ANA) soldiers walk through coalition force Forward Operating Base (FOB) Connelly in the Khogyani district in the eastern province of Nangarhar. From his watchtower in insurgency-wracked eastern Afghanistan, US army Specialist Josh Whitten doesn't have much to say about his Afghan colleagues. 'They don't come up here anymore, because they used to mess around with our stuff. 'Welcome to Forward Operating Base Connelly, where US troops are providing training and tactical advice to the 201st Afghan army corps as they take on the Taliban on the battlefield. AFP PHOTO / Wakil Kohsar (Photo credit should read WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP/Getty Images)
TO GO WITH AFGHANISTAN-US-ARMY-CONFLICT-FOCUS BY GUILLAUME DECAMME In this photograph taken on August 12, 2015, a US army soldier takes aim during a military exercise at coalition force Forward Operating Base (FOB) Connelly in the Khogyani district in the eastern province of Nangarhar. From his watchtower in insurgency-wracked eastern Afghanistan, US army Specialist Josh Whitten doesn't have much to say about his Afghan colleagues. 'They don't come up here anymore, because they used to mess around with our stuff. 'Welcome to Forward Operating Base Connelly, where US troops are providing training and tactical advice to the 201st Afghan army corps as they take on the Taliban on the battlefield. AFP PHOTO / Wakil Kohsar (Photo credit should read WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP/Getty Images)
TO GO WITH AFGHANISTAN-US-ARMY-CONFLICT-FOCUS BY GUILLAUME DECAMME In this photograph taken on August 13, 2015, US army and Afghan National Army (ANA) soldiers walk as a NATO helicopter flies overhead at coalition force Forward Operating Base (FOB) Connelly in the Khogyani district in the eastern province of Nangarhar. From his watchtower in insurgency-wracked eastern Afghanistan, US army Specialist Josh Whitten doesn't have much to say about his Afghan colleagues. 'They don't come up here anymore, because they used to mess around with our stuff. 'Welcome to Forward Operating Base Connelly, where US troops are providing training and tactical advice to the 201st Afghan army corps as they take on the Taliban on the battlefield. AFP PHOTO / Wakil Kohsar (Photo credit should read WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP/Getty Images)
TO GO WITH AFGHANISTAN-US-ARMY-CONFLICT-FOCUS BY GUILLAUME DECAMME In this photograph taken on August 13, 2015, US army soldiers play chess inside coalition force Forward Operating Base (FOB) Connelly in the Khogyani district in the eastern province of Nangarhar. From his watchtower in insurgency-wracked eastern Afghanistan, US army Specialist Josh Whitten doesn't have much to say about his Afghan colleagues. 'They don't come up here anymore, because they used to mess around with our stuff. 'Welcome to Forward Operating Base Connelly, where US troops are providing training and tactical advice to the 201st Afghan army corps as they take on the Taliban on the battlefield. AFP PHOTO / Wakil Kohsar (Photo credit should read WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP/Getty Images)
TO GO WITH AFGHANISTAN-US-ARMY-CONFLICT-FOCUS BY GUILLAUME DECAMME In this photograph taken on August 12, 2015, a US army soldier poses for a photograph at coalition force Forward Operating Base (FOB) Connelly in the Khogyani district in the eastern province of Nangarhar. From his watchtower in insurgency-wracked eastern Afghanistan, US army Specialist Josh Whitten doesn't have much to say about his Afghan colleagues. 'They don't come up here anymore, because they used to mess around with our stuff. 'Welcome to Forward Operating Base Connelly, where US troops are providing training and tactical advice to the 201st Afghan army corps as they take on the Taliban on the battlefield. AFP PHOTO / Wakil Kohsar (Photo credit should read WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP/Getty Images)
TO GO WITH AFGHANISTAN-US-ARMY-CONFLICT-FOCUS BY GUILLAUME DECAMME In this photograph taken on August 12, 2015, a US army soldier looks on with binoculars at Coalition forces Forward Operating Base (FOB) Connelly in Khogyani district in the eastern province of Nangarhar. From his watchtower in insurgency-wracked eastern Afghanistan, US army Specialist Josh Whitten doesn't have much to say about his Afghan colleagues. 'They don't come up here anymore, because they used to mess around with our stuff. 'Welcome to Forward Operating Base Connelly, where US troops are providing training and tactical advice to the 201st Afghan army corps as they take on the Taliban on the battlefield. AFP PHOTO / Wakil Kohsar (Photo credit should read WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP/Getty Images)
TO GO WITH AFGHANISTAN-US-ARMY-CONFLICT-FOCUS BY GUILLAUME DECAMME In this photograph taken on August 12, 2015, a US army soldier stands guard at an Afghan National Army (ANA) base in the Khogyani district in the eastern province of Nangarhar. From his watchtower in insurgency-wracked eastern Afghanistan, US army Specialist Josh Whitten doesn't have much to say about his Afghan colleagues. 'They don't come up here anymore, because they used to mess around with our stuff. 'Welcome to Forward Operating Base Connelly, where US troops are providing training and tactical advice to the 201st Afghan army corps as they take on the Taliban on the battlefield. AFP PHOTO / Wakil Kohsar (Photo credit should read WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP/Getty Images)
TO GO WITH AFGHANISTAN-US-ARMY-CONFLICT-FOCUS BY GUILLAUME DECAMME In this photograph taken on August 12, 2015, a US army soldier plays on a smartphone as he lies on a bed at coalition force Forward Operating Base (FOB) Connelly in the Khogyani district in the eastern province of Nangarhar. From his watchtower in insurgency-wracked eastern Afghanistan, US army Specialist Josh Whitten doesn't have much to say about his Afghan colleagues. 'They don't come up here anymore, because they used to mess around with our stuff. 'Welcome to Forward Operating Base Connelly, where US troops are providing training and tactical advice to the 201st Afghan army corps as they take on the Taliban on the battlefield. AFP PHOTO / Wakil Kohsar (Photo credit should read WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP/Getty Images)
TO GO WITH AFGHANISTAN-US-ARMY-CONFLICT-FOCUS BY GUILLAUME DECAMME In this photograph taken on August 12, 2015, US army soldiers walk past an Afghan National Army (ANA) base in the Khogyani district in the eastern province of Nangarhar. From his watchtower in insurgency-wracked eastern Afghanistan, US army Specialist Josh Whitten doesn't have much to say about his Afghan colleagues. 'They don't come up here anymore, because they used to mess around with our stuff. 'Welcome to Forward Operating Base Connelly, where US troops are providing training and tactical advice to the 201st Afghan army corps as they take on the Taliban on the battlefield. AFP PHOTO / Wakil Kohsar (Photo credit should read WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP/Getty Images)
A member of the U.S. Air Force stands guard, inside a C-130 Hercules aircraft, that belongs to the Afghan National Army, in Kandahar Air Field, Afghanistan, Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2015. Since the departure from Afghanistan last year of most international combat troops, Afghan security forces have been fighting the insurgency alone. Figures show that casualty rates are extremely high, reflecting an emboldened Taliban testing the commitment and strength of the Afghan military. (AP Photo/Massoud Hossaini)
U.S. military officers pay respect during a change of command ceremony in FOB Oqab, Kabul, Afghanistan, Monday, July 27, 2015. (AP Photo/Massoud Hossaini)
U.S. military vehicles stage at the site of a suicide attack that targeted a convoy of American troops in Jalalabad, east of Kabul, Aghanistan, Friday, April 10, 2015. An Afghan official says the bomb killed and wounded several civilians. The Taliban have claimed responsibility for the attack. (AP Photo)
U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel speaks to American troops during a visit in FOB Gamberi, Afghanistan, Sunday, Dec. 7, 2014. Hagel visited the Forward Operating Base to meet with Afghanistan military officials and visit with American troops stationed there. (AP Photo/Mark Wilson, Pool)
US military forces listen to U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel speaking at Tactical Base Gamberi in eastern Afghanistan, Sunday, Dec. 7, 2014. Hagel was winding up a two day visit, his last to Afghanistan as secretary of defense. (AP Photo/Mark Wilson, Pool)
FILE- In this file photo taken Sept. 23, 2009, a column of U.S. Army mine-resistant armored vehicles (MRAPs) and Afghan National Army vehicles pass through a village during a joint patrol in the Jalrez Valley in Afghanistan's Wardak Province. As the United States military packs up to leave Afghanistan, ending 13 years of war, it is looking to sell or dispose of billions of dollars in military hardware, including its sophisticated and highly specialized mine resistant vehicles, but finding a buyer is complicated in a region where relations between neighboring countries are mired in suspicion and outright hostility.(AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo, file)
US soldiers and service members with the NATO- led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) attend a religious ceremony on Christmas Eve at Bagram military base in Kabul, Afghanistan, Tuesday Dec. 24, 2013. The commander of NATO forces in eastern Afghanistan spent Christmas Eve visiting U.S. troops at bases across the mountainous region to bring them holiday greetings and gifts for a few lucky soldiers. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul)
In this Monday, Dec. 9, 2013 photo provided by the U.S. Department of Defense, Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, center, arrives at Kandahar Regional Medical Hospital to visit medical staff and patients in Kandahar province, Afghanistan. America's top military officer said Tuesday the U.S. does not intend to renegotiate a security deal with Afghanistan and that a full withdrawal of its forces from the country at the end of 2014 could reverse gains made by Afghan troops in their war against the Taliban. (AP Photo/D. Myles Cullen, DOD)
In this March 22, 2013, photo, U.S. Marine Major Christopher Bourbeau, deputy commander at the 1st Brigade, 215th Corps Afghanistan National Army Advisor Team, at Camp Garmser, Helmand province, in southern Afghanistan, staging a pop quiz on how to tie tourniquets for the Afghan army troops he advises. The Afghan soldier tied the tourniquet in just over 30 seconds. U.S. commanders trying to hand off war-fighting responsibility by the end of 2014 are encouraged by the uneven yet steady progress of fledgling Afghan security forces. (AP Photo/Kim Dozier)
A Chinock window gunner guards, near U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, on a helicopter over Kabul, Afghanistan, Sunday, Dec. 8, 2013. Hagel spoke with troops and thanked them for being deployed for the holidays. (AP Photo/Mark Wilson, Pool)
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McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, recently proposed intervention in Syria by a European and Arab ground force backed by 10,000 U.S. military advisers and trainers.

On Sunday he and Graham told reporters during a visit to Baghdad that U.S. personnel could provide logistical and intelligence support to a proposed 100,000-strong force from Sunni Arab countries like Egypt, Turkey and Saudi Arabia.

Graham said special forces would also be included.

Watch more coverage:

Clinton: Boots on the Ground Isn't a Smart Move

Obama last month ordered the deployment of dozens of special operations troops to northern Syria to advise opposition forces in their fight against Islamic State, adding to an increasingly volatile conflict in Syria.

Russia and Iran have ramped up their military support for President Bashar al-Assad's fight against rebels in Syria's four-and-a-half year civil war, while the Paris attacks showed how Islamic State has extended its reach to Western cities.

Watch more coverage:

U.S. Troops Deployed Vs. U.S. Troops Killed in Afghanistan 2002 - 2014

U.S. counter-terrorism experts have warned that deploying ground troops risks backfiring by feeding Islamic State's apocalyptic narrative that it is defending Islam against an assault by the West and its authoritarian Arab allies.

The U.S.-led coalition which has been bombing Islamic State targets in Syria and Iraq for more than a year relies heavily on American resources despite including some 60 nations.

McCain said it would be possible but not easy to rally Arab allies to contribute to the proposed ground force in Syria.

"The question... is being asked all over the capitals of the West right now," he said. "(Arab) countries for a long time have not seen what's happening as a direct threat to them. Now I believe that they do."

The senators said removing Assad, who is backed by Russia and Iran, was key to getting Arab Sunni states to back the proposed ground force.

IRAQ

In neighboring Iraq, where about 3,500 U.S. troops are currently advising and assisting Iraqi forces, Graham said an increased American presence would include forward air controllers and aviation assets as well as special forces to carry out raids like one last month which resulted in the first U.S. combat death in Iraq since 2011.

"If you went up to 10,000, you're not getting pushback from the Iraqis," said Graham. "The difference between 3,500 and 10,000 is meaningless politically inside the country (but) militarily significant."

However, government spokesman Saad Hadithi said Abadi had not requested U.S. combat troops on the ground but rather asked for more arms and advisers to increase air support for Iraqi forces. Hadithi declined to speculate about the number of additional personnel under discussion.

Leading Iraqi politicians have repeatedly voiced opposition to a greater role for U.S. forces, which withdrew in 2011 after a nearly nine-year war that left tens of thousands of Iraqis dead.

Iranian-backed Shi'ite Muslim militias seen as a critical bulwark in the fight against Islamic State have also resisted U.S. involvement.

Watch more coverage:

Can US Work with Russia in War Against ISIS?

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