US President Barack Obama will on Wednesday spell out his strategy to destroy the Islamic State, the Sunni rebel group that controls large parts of Iraq and Syria.
“What I’m going to be asking the American people to understand is, number one, this is a serious threat,” Obama told broadcaster NBC in an interview recorded on Saturday and aired on Sunday. “Number two, we have the capacity to deal with it.
US military officials have said that Islamic State cannot be defeated without hitting its bases in Syria, something Obama has been reluctant to do.
But the US president said in the interview the goal of the strategy he will announce on Wednesday would be to “hunt down [Islamic State] members and assets wherever they are” and “systematically degrade” and ultimately defeat them.
Obama added that he also wanted the American people to understand what the US won’t do.
“Our goal should not be to think that we can occupy every country where there’s a terrorist organization,” he added.
Despite the timing of the speech – one day before the 13th anniversary of the September 11, attacks on the United States – Obama said there was no immediate indication of a threat to attack the US homeland.
Obama has been stepping up US military activity in Iraq in the past month in reaction to the spread of Islamic State and displays of their brutality, including the videotaped beheading of two US journalists within the past three weeks.
On September 3 he ordered 350 additional US troops to Iraq, which will bring to 1,170 troops securing US diplomats and their facilities in Baghdad and Erbil. In addition, the US has sent hundreds of troops as advisors and intelligence experts to help Iraqi security forces in Baghdad and Erbil.
The number of airstrikes against Islamic State targets reached 143 on Sunday, the US military said. Several of the most recent strikes took place near the Haditha dam in western Iraq.
The Haditha dam provides fresh water for millions of Iraqis, as well as their crops. It is the second largest hydroelectric contributor in the power system in Iraq.
The airstrikes are believed to be the first in the Anbar province since the US launched an aerial campaign against the jihadists in northern Iraq on August 8.
“We conducted these strikes on Saturday to prevent terrorists from further threatening the security of the dam, which remains under control of Iraqi security forces, with support from Sunni tribes,” Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby said in statement.
The US military said a mix of fighter and bomber aircraft conducted the four airstrikes on Saturday and five on Sunday, destroying numerous Islamic State positions and Humvees and other equipment.
Additionally, an attack aircraft conducted one airstrike against Islamic State near Mosul dam on Saturday.
On the ground the Iraqi has government launched a major offensive to recapture areas run by Islamic State.
Iraqi troops, backed by the US jets, Sunday retook control of the Hadith districts of Khfajiya and Barwana from radicals, Governor of Anbar Ahmed al-Delmi said.
“At least 60 elements from the Islamic State including Afghans and Arab nationals were killed by the security forces in the cleansing operation of the two areas,” he added.
Islamic State seized large parts of mostly Sunni Muslim Anbar earlier this year. The group grabbed further territory in northern Iraq in June.
Last month, Kurdish forces, operating under a US air cover, recaptured the northern Mosul dam, Iraq’s largest, from the rebels.
Ten NATO allies and partners, led by the United States and Britain, announced earlier this week the formation of a coalition to halt the Islamic State’s territorial expansion in Iraq and Syria.
In Cairo on Sunday, the Arab League condemned the Islamic State’s atrocities in Iraq, saying they “amount to war crimes.”
The pan-Arab bloc’s foreign ministers were set to declare late Sunday their countries’ backing for Iraq’s military campaign against hardline rebels.
Addressing the meeting, Arab League head Nabil al-Arabi called on Arab governments to “take a clear and firm decision for an all-out political and military confrontation against terrorism.” SAPA