Obama spells out strategy for combating IS militants

Obama attends a ceremony marking the 13th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks at the Pentagon in WashingtonWASHINGTON: As the United States observed on Thursday the 13th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, President Barack Obama declared that America’s battle against militants of the Islamic State (formerly known as Islamic State of Iraq and Al Sham) would not be limited by political borders.

He said in a televised address that he would not hesitate to take action in Syria, as well as Iraq. But he ruled out cooperation with the Syrian government.

In the fight, “we cannot rely on an Assad regime that terrorises its own people — a regime that will never regain the legitimacy it has lost,” said Mr Obama.

“Instead, we must strengthen the opposition as the best counterweight to extremists like IS, while pursuing the political solution necessary to solve Syria’s crisis once and for all.”

State borders not to limit the fight, says US president

The speech is a policy statement that sets out the US strategy for combating Islamist militants and prepares the American public for yet another long military engagement that may continue for years.

Mr Obama also separated the militants from the larger Muslim community, telling Americans that they were not Islamic.

All four key points of the new policy — taking the war to Syria, shunning the Assad government, the warning that it will be a long war, and that IS did not represent Islam — drew immediate criticism both in and outside the United States.

The Syrian government reminded him that Syria was a sovereign state and any military operation in Syria had to be coordinated with Damascus.

Mr Obama’s critics in the US Congress pointed out that the Americans were still involved in two long wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and did not have the appetite for yet another long military engagement.

And as CNN reported, critics clogged social media networks, telling Mr Obama that IS was a religious organisation.

Mr Obama, who had anticipated such criticism said in his address that the militant organisation was certainly not Islamic because “no religion condones the killing of innocents, and the vast majority of IS victims have been Muslim”.

Responding to the criticism that targeting IS positions inside Syria would violate the country’s sovereignty, Mr Obama said: “IS is certainly not a state; it was formerly al Qaeda’s affiliate in Iraq and has taken advantage of sectarian strife and Syria’s civil war to gain territory on both sides of the Iraq-Syrian border. It is recognised by no government nor by the people it subjugates.”

Attacking the group was justified because IS was a terrorist organisation, “pure and simple, and it has no vision other than the slaughter of all who stand in its way”, the US president said.

Addressing his nation’s reluctance to get involved in yet another long war, Mr Obama said it was not a war but “a counter-terrorism campaign” and the United States would enter this fight with a coalition of like-minded nations.

The aim was to “degrade and ultimately destroy” the militants through air strikes and by preparing moderates opposition groups to replace the militants.

“We have ramped up our military assistance to the Syrian opposition. Tonight, I again call on Congress, again, to give us additional authorities and resources to train and equip these fighters,” he said.

His strategy calls for strengthening the Syrian opposition as “the best counterweight” to extremists, while “pursuing the political solution necessary to solve Syria’s crisis once and for all.”

President Obama said that following consultations with allies abroad and Congress at home, “I can announce that America will lead a broad coalition to roll back this terrorist threat,” but he did not name the countries that have joined the alliance.

He said that he would use “a comprehensive and sustained counter-terrorism strategy” to eliminate IS.

“This is a core principle of my presidency: if you threaten America, you will find no safe haven,” said Mr Obama while referring to two US journalists the militants beheaded recently.

The president asked Congress to explicitly authorise US military personnel to train Syrians, Iraqis and others to combat the Islamist militants in both countries. He also announced that he was sending an additional 475 service members to Iraq for this purpose.

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