Obama Laying Out Strategy Against Islamic State Militants

U.S. President Barack Obama is proposing a substantially expanded American military effort against Islamic State militants, vowing a “relentless effort” to wipe out the terrorists “wherever they exist.”

Obama is laying out the new strategy in a televised White House speech to the nation as the U.S. and its allies face the growing threat of rising Islamist extremism in Iraq, Syria and other parts of the volatile Middle East and North Africa region.

Obama’s plan will include training and arming Iraqi security forces as well as vetted Syrian opposition fighters in order to help both groups battle fighters from the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL.

But Obama emphasized that the fight against Islamic State militants will be different from recent U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“It will not involve American combat troops fighting on foreign soil. This counter-terrorism campaign will be waged through a steady, relentless effort to take out ISIL wherever they exist using our air power and our support for partner forces on the ground.”

“This strategy of taking out terrorists who threaten us, while supporting partners on the front lines, is one that we have successfully pursued in Yemen and Somalia for years,” Obama said.

The president also discussed the possibility of expanding American airstrikes against militant strongholds across the Iraqi border into Syria and indicate that allies in Europe, the Middle East and elsewhere are ready to join the U.S.-led counter-terrorism campaign.

“With a new Iraqi government in place, and following consultations with allies abroad and Congress at home, I can announce that America will lead a broad coalition to roll back this terrorist threat,” Obama will say.

Earlier Wednesday, the White House announced it would provide $25 million in immediate military assistance to the new Iraqi government as part of its efforts to combat the Sunni extremist group, which controls substantial swathes of territory in northern and western Iraq.

According to sources, Saudi Arabia has pledged full commitment to effort, and U.S. troops will train vetted Syrian opposition fighters on Saudi soil.

Obama spoke to Saudi King Abdullah earlier Wednesday, and Secretary of State John Kerry, now visiting Baghdad, will meet with leaders across the region in the coming days.

Congressional legislation

Meanwhile, Senate Democratic leaders prepared legislation that would authorize the U.S. military to arm and train pro-Western Syrian rebels in the fight against Islamic State militants, according to Senate Democratic aides.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid indicated he supports providing President Obama the authority to strengthen regional forces in the fight against IS.

“It’s clear to me that we need to train and equip Syrian rebels and other groups in the Middle East that need some help,” Reid said Wednesday.

House Republicans abruptly called off a vote scheduled for Thursday on a short-term spending bill in order to consider a last-minute White House request that training language be included. They will discuss the issue in an emergency meeting Thursday morning.

The White House request asks for “authority to train and equip appropriately vetted elements of the Syrian armed opposition to help defend the Syrian people from attacks by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and the Syrian regime” as well as stabilize areas in Syria under rebel control.

Pro-Western Syrian rebels have been fighting both Islamic State extremists and forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Obama has told key government officials that he believes he already has the power to order an increased military offensive without congressional approval. But he told four top lawmakers at a White House meeting earlier this week he would welcome a favorable legislative vote to show the country was united in fighting the militants.

Support for the president’s plan appeared to be growing and lawmakers could vote on the measure in the coming days.

In the hours before the president’s remarks, the Treasury Department said Obama’s strategy would include stepped-up efforts to undermine the Islamic State group’s finances.

David Cohen, Treasury’s undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, wrote in a blog post that the U.S. would be working with other countries, especially Gulf states, to cut off the group’s external funding networks and its access to the global financial system.

Obama convened members of his national security team Wednesday, including Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Gen. Martin Dempsey, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, as well as senior intelligence officials, the White House said.


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