US Senator John McCain blasted the White House's military strategy against ISIS Tuesday, suggesting the United States was "losing" the fight, and criticizing the pace of training for Syrian rebels.
Several lawmakers including McCain, the 2008 Republican presidential nominee, grilled Defense Secretary Ashton Carter and the military's top general, Martin Dempsey, on topics ranging from Ukraine to the Middle East.
"There is no compelling reason to believe that anything we are currently doing will be sufficient to achieve the president's long-stated goal of degrading and ultimately destroying ISIL (ISIS) – either in the short-term or the long-term," McCain said at the Senate Armed Services Committee, which he chairs.
"Our means and our current level of effort are not aligned with our ends. That suggests we are not winning, and when you are not winning in war, you are losing."
The sometimes testy exchanges came a day after President Barack Obama spoke at the Pentagon and said the US-led coalition battling ISIS jihadists was "intensifying" its campaign against the group's base in Syria, but cautioned the fight would be long.
But McCain said the policy was unlikely to succeed, and called claims of success delusional.
"When it comes to ISIL, President Obama's comments… reveal the disturbing degree of self-delusion that characterizes the administration's thinking," he said.
Obama said more than 5,000 air strikes had been carried out against the group, eliminating "thousands of fighters, including senior ISIL commanders."
In recent days, the coalition has bombarded ISIS in a series of heavy raids, particularly targeting its de facto Syrian capital Raqqa.
Only 60 trained Syrian rebels
America also wants to train moderate Syrian rebels to fight ISIS forces, but Carter said only a few dozen had so far been approved for training.
Carter said the US was training about 60 fighters as of last week.
"This number is much smaller than we had hoped for at this point," he added, pointing to difficulties in vetting suitable candidates.
"We know this program is essential. We need a partner on the ground in Syria to assure ISIL's lasting defeat."
McCain criticized what he called "not a very impressive number."
In January, the Pentagon said about 5,400 Syrian rebels would be trained and armed in the first year of the program and US lawmakers have allocated about $500 million to the effort.
McCain said the "reality" on the ground is that ISIS jihadists continue to gain territory in Iraq and Syria, while expanding their footprint across the Middle East, Africa, and Central Asia.
Additionally, McCain also asked whether the US military planned on providing lethal weapons to Ukraine, whose troops are fighting pro-Russia separatists in the east.
"Yes, I haven't changed my views," Carter replied.
But Carter stressed that sanctions against Russia and economic help to Ukraine, largely from Europe, are the "main event" in resolving the conflict.