Obama authorizes air strikes inside Syria, dispatches nearly 500 military advisers to Iraq in campaign to destroy ISIS
Vowing a “relentless” campaign against vicious ISIS extremists, President Obama Wednesday night authorized U.S. air strikes inside Syria and dispatched nearly 500 more military advisers to Iraq.
In a high-stakes address to the nation, a politician whose opposition to the Iraq War vaulted him to the White House argued for a broad new military commitment in the region — but without deploying U.S. combat troops.
“We will hunt down terrorists who threaten our country, wherever they are,” Obama said in a crisp, 15-minute address from the White House. “This is a core principle of my presidency: If you threaten America, you will find no safe haven.”
The rare prime-time speech — on the eve of the 13th anniversary of 9/11 — underscored his commitment to “eradicate a cancer like” the Islamic State amid its lightning-fast rise and horrific beheading of two American reporters.
Obama even sounded a bit like his predecessor, George W. Bush, after 9/11 as he talked about trying to rid "evil from the world.”
“These terrorists are unique in their brutality. They execute captured prisoners. They kill children. They enslave, rape and force women into marriage. They threatened a religious minority with genocide. In acts of barbarism, they took the lives of two American journalists, Jim Foley and Steven Sotloff,” he said.
Critical to the effort is U.S. financial and military help to bolster a still-in-the-making international coalition to take on the violent Sunni group, which has overrun northern Iraq this summer in a reign of terror.
The U.S. has conducted 150 air strikes against ISIS since early August.
The expanded campaign will include 475 new military personnel “to support Iraqi and Kurdish forces with training, intelligence and equipment.” The deployment will bring to 1,600 the number of U.S. military personnel sent by Obama into Iraq this summer.
In addition, there will be training in Saudi Arabia of “moderate” Syrian rebels. And while the White House said Obama doesn’t need Congress to expand air strikes into Syria, he conceded that legally he needs its backing so the Defense Department can train and otherwise assist those rebels.
Many specifics remained unclear, including where and when the air strikes — by manned aircraft and drones — in Syria would take place.
But Obama was adamant that no American combat troops will be involved. “We will not get dragged into another ground war,” he said, pledging that this effort will be “different from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.”
He compared the campaign to U.S. operations against Al Qaeda in Pakistan and Somalia, which have consisted of drone strikes targeting the group’s leaders.
The new effort will include deploying ground forces from still-unidentified NATO allies, neighbors of Syria and a smattering of others countries.
The U.S. will try to identify and then assist moderate Syrian rebels so that they, and Iraqi forces, can fight ISIS on their own. At the same time, the Obama administration will seek to persuade a new government in Iraq to make peace with disaffected Sunnis in Iraq who could help against ISIS.
Although he underscored that “this is not our fight alone,” the specific role of other nations in a “broad coalition of partners” remained ambiguous.
The countries helping would apparently include Britain, Germany, France, Denmark, Poland, Australia and Saudi Arabia, among others. But it was clear that Obama is operating on the fly, with Secretary of State Kerry in the Middle East to seek commitments.
The speech climaxed weeks of internal deliberations in which Obama has reached out to military experts, politicians, other world leaders and foreign policy pundits for their counsel.
The address reflected, in part, a need by the President to make it clear that he has a plan to hunt down the bloodthirsty jihadists after awkwardly saying late last month that “we don’t have a strategy yet.”
His approval ratings are down sharply, his party fears losing the Senate in November and a growing number of Americans want action, if not lost U.S. lives.
“The President’s speech hit the nail right on the head,” said Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.). “It showed a firm strength and resolve that will convince the world, our allies and ISIS that we mean business.”
House Speaker John Boehner was more cautious.
“A speech is not the same thing as a strategy,” Boehner (R-Ohio) said. “While the President presented a compelling case for action, many questions remain about the way in which the President intends to act.”
Rep. Pete King (R-L.I.) said he supported Obama’s plan and only wished he’d acted faster.
King said he and other Republicans have questions about how the U.S. can assure that aid to so-called moderate Syrians is targeted and that money and arms do not ultimately fall into ISIS’ hands. He expects a consensus in favor of Obama’s request for authorization to take on Syrian rebels.