More Americans want ground action against ISIS

15 December 2015

The latest AP/GfK poll shows that the number of Americans in favour of deploying US troops to fight the ISIS has risen from 31 per cent to 42 per cent, but they also want President Obama to be clearer about his strategy

After terrorist attacks at home and abroad, more Americans than ever  - though still less than half - support sending US ground troops to fight the Islamic State, according to a new Associated Press-GfK Poll.

A large majority also want a clearer explanation from President Barack Obama about his strategy to defeat the group.

The percentage of Americans who favour deploying US troops to fight IS militants has risen from 31 per cent to 42 per cent over the past year in AP-GfK polling. However, it isn't clear whether those respondents favour a small contingent or a larger ground force that might engage in another protracted Middle Eastern war.

Other national surveys in recent weeks have found similar or greater support for American ground troops.

Obama recently dispatched about 50 special operations forces to coordinate the fight in Syria, adding to the more than 3,000 troops already in Iraq. But he and most other politicians oppose sending a large American contingent to augment the US-led coalition's air campaign.

Most Republicans running for president have not called for that, either, although Donald Trump recently said he would support 10,000 troops, a figure originally floated by Sen Lindsey Graham.

Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton has pledged to keep American troops out of Syria, saying she would resist sending forces to fight Islamic militants even if there's another terrorist attack within the US.

In the poll taken before a brief speech on Monday during which Obama vowed to step up action against ISIS - 56 per cent of Americans said the US military response to the Islamic State group has not gone far enough, up from 46 per cent since October 2014.

Six in 10 Republicans, but only about 3 in 10 Democrats or independents, support sending ground troops, the poll showed.

Analysts say the public desire for more action reflects growing anxiety over the Islamic State after its attack in Paris, and the shootings in San Bernardino, California, carried out by a couple apparently inspired by the group. There is also widespread unease about Obama's strategy, which envisions a long, slow campaign of airstrikes, diplomacy, training, financial sanctions and other measures.

White House officials say Obama recognizes the need to make the case for his strategy. The president gave an Oval Office speech last week, visited the Pentagon on Monday and is expected to visit a counter-terrorism facility later in the week.

But Obama has pointedly made the case against a US ground invasion. The US military could clear the Islamic State from its headquarters in Raqqa, Syria, but IS troops would return unless a local ground force was available to keep order, he said on 16 November, after the attacks in Paris.

"Let's assume that we were to send 50,000 troops into Syria," Obama said. "What happens when there's a terrorist attack generated from Yemen? Do we then send more troops into there? Or Libya, perhaps? "

Most interviews for the AP-GfK poll, which was conducted from 3-7 December, were completed before the 6 December Oval Office address, but the survey found the president had an uphill battle to allay Americans' concerns.

Just 28 per cent in the survey said Obama had clearly explained the United States' goals in fighting the Islamic State, while 68 per cent said he had not. Eighty-eight per cent of Republicans and 66 per cent of independents said the president had not clearly explained the goals, and even among Democrats 51 per cent agreed.

Daniel Byman, a senior fellow in the Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution, said Obama's methodical approach is unsatisfying to Americans but they would be even more displeased if the US troops were dying in Syria.

"Sure, right now, Americans are baying for blood, but if three years down the road, the U.S. has 50,000 troops in Iraq and Syria and we're taking casualties, then American are going to be saying, 'Why did people do stupid things and put American troops at risk."

The AP-GfK Poll of 1,007 adults was conducted online using a sample drawn from GfK's probability-based KnowledgePanel, which is designed to be representative of the U.S. population. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 3.4 percentage points.

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