WASHINGTON: Barack Obama and US lawmakers ratcheted up the pressure on the Islamic State Wednesday, with the president declaring there was no hiding place for the jihadists and warning: “Our reach is long.”
After Obama spoke at MacDill Air Force Base, the House of Representatives voted 273 to 156 to approve his plan to train and equip moderate Syrian rebels, a key part of his strategy to destroy the IS group.
Obama was keen to project a sternly determined mood at the Florida air base, the headquarters of US Central Command, which oversees military action in the Middle East.
He met military commanders to discuss how to defeat the so-called “Islamic State” group — a powerful extremist organization — while keeping America out of another protracted conflict in the Middle East.
Obama has consistently said he will not put US “boots on the ground” despite the IS organization — which the US estimates has 20,000 to 31,000 fighters — grabbing vast areas of Iraq and Syria in a offensive that has seen beheadings and forced religious conversions.
Two American reporters and a Briton were executed on camera by a masked IS militant, provoking revulsion and condemnation.
Obama, who last week vowed to “degrade and ultimately destroy” the IS group, stood firm on his pledge that a US combat mission was not in the cards — but insisted the jihadists would be defeated.
“The American forces that have been deployed to Iraq do not and will not have a combat mission,” Obama stressed.
His comments came after America’s top officer General Martin Dempsey suggested military advisors might provide counsel to Iraqi troops in “close combat,” sparking hand-wringing in Washington about “mission creep.”
“Our reach is long. If you threaten America, you will find no safe haven. We will find you eventually,” Obama said.
Last week he ordered expanded air strikes against the IS organization in Iraq and said the US was prepared to launch air raids on the militants in neighboring Syria.
He again emphasized the broad-based nature of the US-led coalition to defeat the jihadists, and noted that Saudi Arabia had agreed to host a US mission for training moderate Syrian rebels.
Some 40 countries are backing the coalition to defeat IS, but there was a prominent dissenting voice in the form of Iran, with President Hassan Rouhani criticizing Washington’s refusal to send in ground troops.