President Obama is prepared to authorise airstrikes in Syria, a senior administration official said, taking the military campaign against the Sunni militant group, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), into new and unpredictable terrain.
But Obama is still wrestling with a series of challenges, including how to train and equip a viable ground force to fight ISIS inside Syria, how to intervene without aiding Bashar al-Assad, and how to enlist potentially reluctant partners like Turkey and Saudi Arabia.
In a prime-time address on Wednesday evening, Obama is to explain to Americans his strategy for “degrading and ultimately destroying the terrorist group,” the White House said in a statement. People briefed on the president’s plans described a long-term campaign far more complex than the targeted strikes the United States has used against al-Qaeda in Yemen, Pakistan and elsewhere.
Obama has resisted military engagement in Syria for more than three years, out of fear that arming the rebels would fail to alter the balance in the civil war while more direct military intervention could have spillover effects in the region.
When he threatened Syria with a missile strike last year after Assad’s forces used chemical weapons, implacable opposition in Congress led him to shelve the plan. Now, however, the threat from ISIS has changed both the political climate and his calculations.
On Tuesday, the president told Republican and Democratic leaders of the House and the Senate he believed he had the authority needed to order an expanded operation, though he would “welcome action by the Congress that would aid the overall effort,” the White House statement said.
Obama’s speech to the nation, on the eve of the 13th anniversary of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, is the culmination of weeks of anguished internal deliberations, followed by days of intense lobbying of allies by the president — at a NATO meeting in Wales, with Congress, and even over a dinner Monday with members of the foreign-policy establishment. nyt
Kerry arrives in Iraq to press PM on inclusive government
With a new Iraqi government finally in place and a growing Mideast consensus on defeating insurgent threats, US Secretary of State John Kerry pressed Iraq’s Shia leader on Wednesday to quickly deliver more power to wary Sunnis — or jeopardise any hope of defeating ISIS.
Kerry landed in the Iraqi capital just two days after newly sworn Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi seated his top government ministers. As Kerry and al-Abadi were meeting, two car bombs exploded simultaneously in the southeastern neighborhood of New Baghdad, killing 13 people.
The trip marks the first high-level US meeting with al-Abadi since he become prime minister, and it aimed to symbolise the Obama administration’s support for Iraq.
But it also signaled to al-Abadi, a Shia Muslim, that the US was watching to make sure he gives Iraqi Sunnis more control over their local power structures and security forces, as promised.
Al-Abadi’s predecessor, former PM Nouri al-Maliki, for years shut Sunnis out of power — and in turn sowed widespread resentment that ISIS extremists seized on as a recruiting tool.
Al-Abadi hosted Kerry in the ornate presidential palace. In brief remarks following their meeting, al-Abadi noted that Iraq’s violence is largely a spillover from the neighbouring civil war in Syria, where ISIS has a safe haven.