Obama Outlines Strategy to Combat Islamic State Militants

In an address Wednesday night, U.S. President Barack Obama outlined a four-point strategy to "degrade and ultimately destroy" the Islamic State militant group. The president said the United States will continue conducting airstrikes in Iraq, working with the government, and noted that he "will not hesitate" to expand the air campaign into Syria. Obama maintained ...

Saul Loeb-Pool/Getty Images
Saul Loeb-Pool/Getty Images
Saul Loeb-Pool/Getty Images

In an address Wednesday night, U.S. President Barack Obama outlined a four-point strategy to "degrade and ultimately destroy" the Islamic State militant group. The president said the United States will continue conducting airstrikes in Iraq, working with the government, and noted that he "will not hesitate" to expand the air campaign into Syria. Obama maintained the United States will not deploy combat troops, but will send 475 additional military advisors to Iraq. Additionally, the president called for congressional approval for increased military assistance for the Syrian opposition. On Thursday, the opposition Syrian National Coalition said it would partner with the United States to combat Islamic State militants and urged support for the Free Syrian Army. Obama noted the United States would be joined by a "broad coalition of partners" saying Secretary of State John Kerry was in the Middle East working to enlist more support. Kerry will meet with Arab leaders in Saudi Arabia on Thursday. U.S. officials reported Wednesday that Saudi Arabia agreed to a U.S. request to host a base to train Syrian opposition fighters.

Syria

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons reported it had found "compelling evidence" that a toxic chemical, likely chlorine, was used "systematically and repeatedly" in attacks on the northern Syrian villages of Talmanes, Al Tamanah, and Kafr Zeta earlier this year. The report doesn't specify who was responsible for the attacks, though only the Syrian government is known to have the ability to conduct the type of aerial attacks that were witnessed. The Syrian government was not required to include chorine when it submitted its declaration of chemical weapons in September 2013. Destruction of the declared stockpile was completed in August.

In an address Wednesday night, U.S. President Barack Obama outlined a four-point strategy to "degrade and ultimately destroy" the Islamic State militant group. The president said the United States will continue conducting airstrikes in Iraq, working with the government, and noted that he "will not hesitate" to expand the air campaign into Syria. Obama maintained the United States will not deploy combat troops, but will send 475 additional military advisors to Iraq. Additionally, the president called for congressional approval for increased military assistance for the Syrian opposition. On Thursday, the opposition Syrian National Coalition said it would partner with the United States to combat Islamic State militants and urged support for the Free Syrian Army. Obama noted the United States would be joined by a "broad coalition of partners" saying Secretary of State John Kerry was in the Middle East working to enlist more support. Kerry will meet with Arab leaders in Saudi Arabia on Thursday. U.S. officials reported Wednesday that Saudi Arabia agreed to a U.S. request to host a base to train Syrian opposition fighters.

Syria

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons reported it had found "compelling evidence" that a toxic chemical, likely chlorine, was used "systematically and repeatedly" in attacks on the northern Syrian villages of Talmanes, Al Tamanah, and Kafr Zeta earlier this year. The report doesn’t specify who was responsible for the attacks, though only the Syrian government is known to have the ability to conduct the type of aerial attacks that were witnessed. The Syrian government was not required to include chorine when it submitted its declaration of chemical weapons in September 2013. Destruction of the declared stockpile was completed in August.

Headlines

  • The Yemeni government reported it has reached a deal with Houthi rebels to end weeks of protests, which will include replacing the prime minister, though a Houthi representative said the parties had not reached a final agreement.
  • Human Rights Watch issued a report Thursday, accusing Israel of committing war crimes in Gaza, a day after Israel announced an investigation into possible military misconduct during the 50-day conflict.
  • Iran said world powers should abandon some of their "illogical demands" over its nuclear program ahead of talks Thursday with Britain, France, and Germany.

Arguments and Analysis

The Most Discouraging Sentence in Obama’s Entire ISIS Speech‘ (Hayes Brown, ThinkProgress)

"In arguing that the fight against ISIS will be different than the large-scale wars of the last decade in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to excerpts released by the White House ahead of the address, the president will dismiss the potential for any sort of massive ground force. Instead, he’ll say, the U.S. will depend on using air power and supporting Iraqi, Kurdish, and Syrian rebel forces on the ground through arming and training them as the way to ultimately defeat the militants that have taken over large parts of Iraq and Syria. ‘This strategy of taking out terrorists who threaten us, while supporting partners on the front lines, is one that we have successfully pursued in Yemen and Somalia for years,’ the excerpt reads.

Except this is probably among the least encouraging thing that Obama could possibly say. Yemen and Somalia have been the target of hundreds of U.S. strikes, from not just armed drones, but also Special Forces raids and missiles launched from nearby ships. After nearly 13 years of using the authority granted to President George W. Bush to destroy al Qaeda in 2001, the United States is still trying to prevent the spread of terror in those countries, making the odds that the fight against ISIS will be a short one extremely low."

Is It Necessary to Destroy Iraq to Save It?‘ (Daniel L. Byman, The Brookings Institution)

"As the forces of the Islamic State consolidate power in Syria and threaten to expand further in Iraq, President Obama is proposing a cautious but serious plan to push it back. In general terms the president’s approach – reforming the Iraqi government, building up national and local military forces like Sunni tribes and Kurdish militias, working with allies and using limited force in both Iraq and Syria – may be the most realistic option out there. With dedication and some luck, a Somalia and Yemen type approach may move things forward and at least degrade the Islamic State. Yet many of the necessary steps the United States must take to save Iraq from the Islamic State and disintegration work against the longstanding U.S. objective of a secure Iraq that is friendly to the West and has its territorial integrity intact."

— Mary Casey

<p>Mary Casey-Baker is the editor of Foreign Policy’s Middle East Daily Brief, as well as the assistant director of public affairs at the Project on Middle East Political Science and assistant editor of The Monkey Cage blog for the Washington Post. </p> Twitter: @casey_mary

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