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Presidential candidate Bush wants increased US presence on ground in Iraq

US Republican presidential candidate and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush listens to a question from the audience at a town hall meeting at Coastal Carolina University in Conway

By Steve Holland

Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush called for an increased American troop presence on the ground in Iraq to counter Islamic State militants following the Paris attacks, saying President Barack Obama’s policy of air strikes is not enough.

“While air power is essential, it alone cannot bring the results we seek,” Bush said in a speech at The Citadel, a military college. “The United States – in conjunction with our NATO allies and more Arab partners – will need to increase our presence on the ground.”

Bush used the speech to shift slightly his proposals on how to take on Islamic State militants after 129 people were killed in the Paris attacks last Friday.

“Militarily, we need to intensify our efforts in the air -and on the ground,” he said.

The former Florida governor has been calling for more US special operations forces to be embedded with Iraqi units to help identify enemy targets.

If elected in November 2016, Bush said he also would build an international coalition including regional countries to use “overwhelming force” to take out Islamic State’s self-proclaimed caliphate in parts of Syria and Iraq.

In his speech, he did not say how many more troops are needed, saying the scope of any increased U.S. presence on the ground should be in line with what US military generals recommend.

“But the bulk of these ground troops will need to come from local forces that we have built workable relationships with,” he said.

Bush, looking to show he is capable of being commander in chief in the face of multiple threats abroad, laid out a national security strategy in a speech that he retooled in order to take account of the Paris attacks.

Iraq is a sensitive subject for Bush, given the dismay some Americans feel over the rationale for the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq ordered by his brother, former President George W. Bush.

Bush’s plan calls for maintaining the US prison in Guantanamo, Cuba, that his brother used to house terrorism suspects and which President Barack Obama is trying to close by the time he leaves office in January 2017. The prison currently has 107 inmates.

Bush is eager to make an impact on a Republican race that in some respects has been leaving him behind. He is in single digits in many polls of Republican voters, who so far have been 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 per cent. Carson and Bush were tied at about 9 per cent.

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