President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden meet with members of the National Security Council in the Situation Room of the White House. Sept. 10, 2014.
In his prime-time speech to the nation on the eve of the 13th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terror attacks, President Obama vowed to “degrade and destroy” the Islamic State insurgency in Iraq and Syria and announced airstrikes on those targets along with 475 U.S. boots on the ground as part of his plan – but he made a point of stating that the terrorists “are not Islamic.”
“Now let’s make two things clear: ISIL is not Islamic,” Obama said, speaking from the state floor of the White House residence. “No religion condones the killing of innocents, and the vast majority of ISIL’s victims have been Muslim. And ISIL is certainly not a state. It was formerly al-Qaida’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 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.”
Obama said the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, poses a threat to Iraq, Syria and the broader Middle East – including American citizens, personnel and facilities.
“If left unchecked, these terrorists could pose a growing threat beyond that region – including to the United States,” he said. “While we have not yet detected specific plotting against our homeland, ISIL leaders have threatened America and our allies. Our intelligence community believes that thousands of foreigners – including Europeans and some Americans – have joined them in Syria and Iraq. Trained and battle-hardened, these fighters could try to return to their home countries and carry out deadly attacks.
“I know many Americans are concerned about these threats. Tonight, I want you to know that the United States of America is meeting them with strength and resolve.”
The president announced “a comprehensive and sustained counter-terrorism strategy” to “degrade, and ultimately destroy,” ISIS.
“First, we will conduct a systematic campaign of airstrikes against these terrorists,” he said. “Working with the Iraqi government, we will expand our efforts beyond protecting our own people and humanitarian missions, so that we’re hitting ISIL targets as Iraqi forces go on offense. …
“Second, we will increase our support to forces fighting these terrorists on the ground. In June, I deployed several hundred American service members to Iraq to assess how we can best support Iraqi Security Forces. Now that those teams have completed their work – and Iraq has formed a government – we will send an additional 475 service members to Iraq. As I have said before, these American forces will not have a combat mission. We will not get dragged into another ground war in Iraq. But they are needed to support Iraqi and Kurdish forces with training, intelligence and equipment. We will also support Iraq’s efforts to stand up National Guard Units to help Sunni communities secure their own freedom from ISIL control.”
The U.S. currently has a CIA program in place to train Syrian rebels, but Obama indicated he wants a more overt show of military force.
“[I]n Syria, we have ramped up our military assistance to the Syrian opposition,” he said. “Tonight, I again call on Congress to give us additional authorities and resources to train and equip these fighters. In the fight against ISIL, we cannot rely on an Assad regime that terrorizes its people; a regime that will never regain the legitimacy it has lost. Instead, we must strengthen the opposition as the best counterweight to extremists like ISIL, while pursuing the political solution necessary to solve Syria’s crisis once and for all.”
The president also pledged the U.S. would continue to draw on counterterrorism capabilities to prevent ISIS attacks by cutting off its funding, improving intelligence, strengthening U.S. defenses and stemming the flow of foreign fights into and out of the Middle East.
He added, “And in two weeks, I will chair a meeting of the U.N. Security Council to further mobilize the international community around this effort.”
Lastly, Obama said the U.S. would provide humanitarian aid to civilians, including Sunni and Shiite Muslims, Christians and other religious minorities who have been driven from their homes.
Written by CHELSEA SCHILLING
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