US President Barack Obama on Wednesday ‘authorized’ a sharp escalation of the U.S. military campaign against the so-called Islamic State terrorist group along with expanded airstrikes in Iraq as he vowed to wipe out the group’s terrorists “wherever they exist.”
Obama“Our objective is clear: we will degrade, and ultimately destroy, ISIL through a comprehensive and sustained counter-terrorism strategy,” Obama said during a prime-time address to the nation.
Obama — who hoped to go down in history for ending wars, not starting an open-ended escalation in the Middle East — also pledged to “bolster” Iraqi forces and increase military assistance to Syria’s opposition.
“They execute captured prisoners. They kill children. They enslave, rape and force women into marriage,” he said. Such barbarity could bring only one response, Obama said. “I will not hesitate to take action against ISIL in Syria, as well as Iraq,” he said. “This is a core principle of my presidency: if you threaten America, you will find no safe haven.”
A senior defense official added: “The US military is ready to conduct direct action against ISIL targets in Syria.”
He made clear in the 14-minute address that the new front against terrorism will not become a repeat of the ‘exhausting ground wars’ of the last decade. “I want the American people to understand how this effort will be different from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan,” Obama said. “It will not involve American combat troops fighting on foreign soil.”
Instead, Washington will empower local partners like the Iraqi forces, Kurdish fighters and Syrian opposition militants, to fill in territory opened up by US air power.
Syria’s opposition National Coalition welcomed the US plan on Wednesday. In a statement, the group said it backed a US plan for air strikes in Syria and training of militant forces, but that a “stable and extremist-free region” required “degrading and ultimately removing the [President Bashar] Assad repressive regime.”
The Syrian Coalition said it had “long called for this action, and… warned time and again of the growing threat of this extremist group.” The Free Syrian Army “can succeed, but it needs the necessary support that would enable it to form a reliable and well-equipped force,” the statement added.