President Barack Obama is committing the United States to a broad military campaign to root out militants in two volatile Middle East nations, authorizing airstrikes in both Syria and Iraq that could last well after his presidency. Some highlights from Obama’s address to the nation Wednesday night:
Degrade the Islamic State group’s ability to operate, then ultimately to destroy the extremist organization. Bolster the Iraqi military and moderate Syrian rebels to allow them to reclaim territory seized by the Islamic State. Cut off the group’s funding and access to the global financial system.
Until now, the U.S. has only launched airstrikes against Islamic State militants within Iraq’s borders and only to protect U.S. personnel and facilities or to carry out humanitarian operations. Now Obama is lifting those restrictions and vowing to carry out a systematic airstrike campaign against the extremists irrespective of international borders. That will almost surely entail U.S. airstrikes in Syria.
Obama wants to train and arm moderate, vetted Syrian opposition fighters in Syria who oppose both the Islamic State militants and Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime. The U.S. is already carrying out smaller-scale, covert operations to train and equip the rebels. But Obama wants the Pentagon to run a larger-scale program. Saudi Arabia has agreed to host the training component.
MORE U.S. TROOPS
Send 475 more troops to Iraq to perform three main missions: embed with Iraqi troops as advisers so they can go on the offensive with the help of expanded U.S. airstrikes; conduct intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance flights over Iraq to improve targeting information; and coordinate U.S. military activities across Iraq. Those 475 troops join a little over 1,100 U.S. troops already in Iraq. But the U.S. says it’s not sending ground troops into Iraq for combat.
Obama says he already has the authority to conduct military strikes under the authorization Congress granted President George W. Bush to go after terrorists in the days after 9/11. But Obama says Congress needs to authorize the train-and-equip mission for the Syrian rebels. He’s pressing for a quick vote.
Build a broad coalition to unite against the militants, with Sunni Arab allies and NATO member Turkey playing leading roles. Already, the 22-member Arab League has essentially agreed to join. Some Gulf states could help with airstrikes, while others could assist with arms, training, intelligence and logistics. Obama wants nations to firm up their commitments by the annual U.N. General Assembly session in late September.
No set timeline for when the mission will be completed. But it won’t happen overnight. Officials have said it could take a number of years to roll back the Islamic State organization, potentially extending the mission beyond the end of Obama’s presidency in early 2017.
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