President Obama outlined Wednesday the U.S. strategy to combat an Islamic militant group that has swept through Iraq and Syria in recent months, killing hundreds of civilians and two American journalists.
"If you threaten America, you will find no safe haven," the president said during a prime-time address to the nation.
Obama has previously said that the U.S. will "degrade and ultimately destroy" the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. On Wednesday night, he laid out the specifics of the plan to do so, putting the U.S. on the offensive.
"This counterterrorism campaign will be waged through a steady, relentless effort to take out ISIL wherever they exist, using our air power and our support for partner forces on the ground," Obama said, using a different acronym to refer to the group. That campaign includes ISIS targets in Syria, he said.
"I have made it clear that we will hunt down terrorists who threaten our country, wherever they are," the president said.
The U.S. will also increase its support of Syrian rebels fighting ISIS in that country, providing training, arms, and equipment. The U.S. will work with a number of nations, Obama said, which could provide airstrike campaigns of their own, as well as training, arms, intelligence, and humanitarian assistance. On Wednesday night, Saudi Arabian officials said they would provide bases to train moderate Syrian opposition fighters per a request by the U.S., The New York Times reported.
On the eve of the 13th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, concerns are on the rise about an attack by ISIS militants on U.S. soil. Obama said on Wednesday that "we have not yet detected specific plotting against the U.S. homeland," but that he is reacting to threats to the U.S. and its allies. He also brought up the danger posed by the return of Europeans and Americans who are fighting alongside ISIS in Iraq and Syria, a concern that has prompted some lawmakers to call for the revocation of those Americans' passports.
The U.S. will also increase its support of Syrian rebels fighting ISIS in that country, providing training, arms, and equipment. The U.S. will work with a number of nations, Obama said, which could provide air strike campaigns of their own, as well as training, arms, intelligence and humanitarian assistance.
The president said that the American offensive against ISIS will be modeled after military operations in Yemen and Somalia, where the U.S. has for years maintained a campaign of drone strikes against terrorists in cooperation with local intelligence services. Most recently, an airstrike in Somalia killed Ahmed Godane, the founder of an al-Qaida offshoot known as al-Shabaab.
Obama will work with Congress "as a partner" in planning the U.S. campaign against ISIS, a senior White House official said before Wednesday evening's speech. Three of the four top congressional leaders kept their silence on the subject of the new campaign ahead of Obama's address, with only Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell calling for the president to seek congressional approval "whatever he decides to do."
Congressional responses to Obama's speech quickly rolled in Wednesday night. "Now that a strategy has been outlined, it is critical that Congress and the American people come together in solidarity to support the president and our armed forces," Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said in a statement.
In an interview with CNN's newest political correspondent, former White House press secretary Jay Carney, Sen. John McCain, R.-Ariz., pushed back against the president's characterization of the situation in Iraq and Syria. "The fact he didn't leave a residual force in Iraq is the reason we're facing ISIS today," McCain said. "To say that America is safer, and that the situation is very much like Yemen and Somalia shows me that the president really doesn't have a grasp for how serious the threat of ISIS is."
This article is from the archive of our partner National Journal.