U.S. President Barack Obama says he is prepared to attack the Islamic State in Syria as well as in Iraq, and that he will deploy hundreds of additional U.S. military personnel in an intensified campaign to “degrade and ultimately destroy” the militant group.
“I have made it clear that we will hunt down terrorists who threaten our country, wherever they are,” Obama said in a nationally televised speech at the White House on September 10.
Obama said the United States will send an additional 475 U.S. military personnel to Iraq in order to support Iraqi and Kurdish forces fighting the Islamic State, also known as ISIL, but that these troops would not be engaged in combat.
"This is a core principle of my presidency: If you threaten America, you will find no safe haven," Obama said.
In the speech, which came on the eve of the anniversary of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Obama outlined a strategy to expand the fight against the Islamic State, vowing that America “will lead a broad coalition to roll back this terrorist threat.”
“Our objective is clear: We will degrade, and ultimately destroy, ISIL through a comprehensive and sustained counterterrorism strategy,” he said.
In addition to announcing “a systemic campaign of air strikes against these terrorists” that could extend to targets in Syria, Obama called on the U.S. Congress to approve additional resources to train and equip Syrian fighters battling Islamic State militants.
A senior U.S. administration official told reporters in a conference call prior to the speech that this training would be conducted in Saudi Arabia, which has agreed to host the program. U.S. personnel would not conduct the training inside Syria, the official said.
U.S. Boots, But No Combat
Obama stressed that the additional U.S. military personnel to be deployed to Iraq would not “have a combat mission” and that the United States “will not get dragged into another ground war in Iraq.”
“I want the American people to understand how this effort will be different from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It will not involve American combat troops fighting on foreign soil," he said.
Another senior administration official said before the speech that the fresh deployment is aimed at supporting “Iraqi security forces who are going on offense” against the Islamic State.
Obama compared the strategy he spelled out in the speech to U.S. counterterrorism efforts in Yemen and Somalia in recent years.
‘Unique In Their Brutality’
Obama called the militant group’s name a misnomer, saying it is not “Islamic” because “no religion condones the killing of innocents." The organization is not a state because “it is recognized by no government, nor the people it subjugates.”
“ISIL is a terrorist organization, pure and simple. And it has no vision other than the slaughter of all who stand in its way,” he said.
He called the group’s fighters “unique in their brutality,” citing in part the execution of American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff.
Obama said the role of the Iraqi people and regional players will be crucial if the Islamic State is to be defeated, and he linked his decision to step up the U.S. role in the fight with the forming of “an inclusive government” in Baghdad in recent days.
"American power can make a decisive difference, but we cannot do for Iraqis what they must do for themselves, nor can we take the place of Arab partners in securing their region,” Obama said.
With reporting by Carl Schreck in Washington