By Kristina Wong - 07/23/14 10:39 AM EDT
The chairman of the House Foreign Affairs panel Wednesday blasted the Obama administration for failing to act quickly against a Sunni extremist group, saying it had ignored Iraqi calls for drone strikes since last summer.
During a hearing on the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) said the administration knew six months ago that the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS or ISIL) had established armed camps, staging areas and training grounds in Iraq’s western desert and its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was threatening to attack the U.S.
"These repeated requests, unfortunately, were turned down,” he said. “I added my voice for drone strikes as ISIS convoys raced across the desert.”
ISIS has captured broad swatches of both Iraq and Syria, and last month, threatened to march on Baghdad. The security meltdown in Iraq led President Obama to authorize the deployment of up to 800 military advisers to help local forces counter the terror group.
But at the hearing Wednesday, lawmakers from both parties said more could have been done sooner to halt ISIS’s ascent.
Ranking member Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) lamented the slow progress against ISIS and urged the administration to use "all tools at our disposal."
Engel said he supported the administration's $500 million initiative to train and equip vetted Syrian rebels, who are fighting both ISIS and Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime, but said that should have been done "well over a year ago."
"I’m glad that a few weeks ago, the administration announced its support for a $500-million train-and-equip program for the moderate Syrian opposition,” he said.
“But now, ISIL has gained so much territory and momentum, and they are far more difficult to stop," Engel continued. "I can’t help but wonder what would have happened if we had committed to empowering the moderate Syrian opposition last year? Would ISIL have grown as it did? Would the opposition have been able to apply enough pressure to Assad to compel him to a diplomatic transition?
"The hypotheticals and the 'what-ifs' break my heart," Engel said.