US President Barack Obama will not hesitate to conduct airstrikes in Syria as he expands the US fight to “degrade and ultimately destroy” the Islamic State.
“We will hunt down terrorists who threaten our country, wherever they are,” Obama said in a rare evening address to the American people from the White House.
“That means I will not hesitate to take action against ISIL in Syria, as well as Iraq. This is a core principle of my presidency: if you threaten America, you will find no safe haven.”
ISIL is one of the variants used to refer to Islamic State. The US will step up strikes in Iraq beyond the existing mission that is focused on protecting US interests in the region and providing humanitarian aid.
Obama also aims to increase aid to the moderate Syrian opposition in their fight against the Islamic State and will ask Congress to authorize funding to equip and train the rebels.
US President Barack Obama stressed the Islamic State poses a growing threat, not just to Iraq and Syria, but also to the rest of the world.
“While we have not yet detected specific plotting against our homeland, ISIL leaders have threatened America and our allies,” he said.
He pointed to intelligence that thousands of foreign fighters, including Europeans and Americans, have joined the group in Iraq and Syria and could carry out attacks in the West. He plans to chair a meeting of the UN Security Council on the threat of foreign fighters on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York later this month.
Obama stressed that no US ground combat troops will be sent back into Iraq or into neighbouring Syria, instead relying on US airstrikes and regional forces. The US will however send an additional 475 troops to Iraq to provide assistance to Iraqi and Kurdish forces battling the Islamic State. The forces will join more than 1,000 troops already in Iraq to assess Iraqi needs and advise, equip and train them, but will not engage in ground combat operations, he said.
Last month, Obama ordered airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Iraq who he said threatened US interests in the region and were poised to commit genocide against a religious minority. But until Wednesday, he has voided saying that the US would take the fight into Syria, although top Obama officials have hinted at the likelihood.
The expansion of US military involvement comes on the heels of the formation of a more inclusive Iraqi government that Obama has for months insisted on before US would broaden its support of the government.
The effort will rely on a broad international coalition and US Secretary of State John Kerry and Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel are meeting with countries in the region to garner support.
Earlier Wednesday, Kerry flew from Iraq to Jordan, where he met with King Abdullah and the head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mashal Zaben, to discuss a wider military coalition to combat the militant group.
Kerry and Abdullah discussed using Jordan as a base for the proposed coalition strikes against Islamic State fighters in neighbouring Iraq and Syria, according to sources close to the talks. Saudi Arabia has agreed to assist the US in equipping and training the moderate Syrian opposition by hosting a training facility, a senior US official said. SAPA