Obama authorises airstrikes in Syria to fight Islamic State militants
WASHINGTON: Barack Obama has authorised airstrikes in
Syria for the first time in a major escalation of the military campaign against
the Islamic State.
In a live televised address, the US President also
announced expanded strikes in Iraq as part of a steady, relentless effort to
root out IS extremists. “We will hunt down terrorists who threaten our country,
wherever they are,” Obama told Americans.
“That means I will not hesitate to take action against
ISIL in Syria, as well as Iraq,” he said, using an acronym to describe the
group. “This is a core principle of my presidency: If you threaten America, you
will find no safe haven.”
The prime-time address came on the eve of the 13th
anniversary of the September 11 attacks. The President said that while there
was no evidence IS was plotting to strike America, “if left unchecked, these
terrorists could pose a growing threat beyond that region, including to the
The decision to authorise airstrikes in Syria marks a
turnabout for the President, who had been wary of dragging the US military into
a country embroiled in a three-year civil war. Last year, he shied away from
airstrikes to punish Syrian President Bashar al Assad for using chemical
weapons against his own people.
The plans also amounted to a striking shift for a
President who rose to political prominence in part because of his early
opposition to the Iraq war.
Obama said he was dispatching nearly 500 more US
troops to assist Iraqi security forces and conduct intelligence and
reconnaissance flights, bringing the total number of American forces sent there
this summer to more than 1,500.
But he insisted the military would not be dragged into
another ground war, saying that "these American forces will not have a
combat mission" and that the campaign "will not involve American
combat troops fighting on foreign soil".
The President also urged Congress to authorise a
programme to train and arm Syrian rebels who are fighting both the Islamic
State militants and the Assad regime.
IS has been on the warpath in Iraq and Syria, taking
large swathes of territory and putting US lives at risk, according to the White
House. In the last few weeks, IS has released videos of its militants beheading
kidnapped American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff.