Obama OKs US airstrikes in Syria

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President Obama authorized U.S. airstrikes in Syria as he vowed Wednesday to wipe out Islamic State terrorists “wherever they exist,” during a prime-time address that outlined a sharp expansion of the U.S. military campaign in the Middle East.

“Our objective is clear: we will degrade, and ultimately destroy, ISIL through a comprehensive and sustained counter-terrorism strategy,” Obama said.

The administration is not giving a timeframe for when the expanded airstrikes will begin. But senior administration officials said the militants operate freely across both sides of the Iraq-Syria border, and the U.S. cannot be restrained by that border in going after the organization.

Until now, U.S. airstrikes have been limited to northern Iraq. Obama is vowing to now lead a “broad coalition’ against the militant group.

Obama, who campaigned on ending the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, stressed Wednesday that this military effort will be different from those protracted conflicts and will not involve U.S. combat troops on the ground.

But, after weeks of mixed signals from the administration over how deeply it would commit to combating the Islamic State, or ISIS, the president set a goal of destroying the group with a “comprehensive and sustained” strategy.

“This counter-terrorism 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 in prepared remarks.

The president’s approach also involves a renewed call to train and arm moderate Syrian rebels. The president asked Congress to authorize this sort of program earlier this year, but the plan has not garnered support on Capitol Hill. House Republicans, in light of the president’s speech, have delayed a vote on a spending bill in order to consider the latest request.

The White House on Wednesday also announced another $25 million in military aid to the Iraqi government, while the Treasury Department outlined efforts to go after the Islamic State’s finances.

The speech marks the president’s highest-profile effort yet to both explain his strategy to the American people and rally support – in Congress and on the world stage – for an expanded campaign against the Islamic State.

Obama for weeks has struggled to articulate his policy toward ISIS and get on the same page with his own military advisers about how urgent the threat really is outside of Iraq and Syria.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel last month said the terror group is “beyond anything that we’ve seen.”

Obama, though, then confounded lawmakers when he openly admitted his administration didn’t have a strategy yet for confronting the threat in Syria. He sent more mixed messages when he said the goal is to “destroy” the group but also make it a “manageable problem.”

Since then, the president has projected a more consistent message that the Islamic State must be destroyed.

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