US Air Strikes Could Range Into Syria: 'We're Going to Do What's Necessary'

By Susan Jones | June 20, 2014 | 6:36 AM EDT

President Barack Obama speaks about the situation in Iraq, Thursday, June 19, 2014, in the Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House in Washington. Obama said the US will send up to 300 military advisers to Iraq, set up joint operation centers. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

( - Could U.S. air strikes range into Syria?

"[W]e don't restrict potential U.S. action to a specific geographic space," a "senior administration official" told reporters on Thursday, shortly after President Obama announced he is sending up to 300 American military advisers to Iraq.

"The president's made clear time and again that we will take action as necessary, including direct U.S. military action if it's necessary, to defend the United States against an imminent threat," the official, speaking on background, told a conference call.

"You know, clearly we're focused on Iraq. That's where our ISR (intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance) resources have surged. That's where we're working to develop additional intelligence.

"But the group ISIL, again, operates broadly, and we would not restrict our ability to take action that is necessary to protect the United States. Again, we take action in this region -- in Yemen against AQAP; in Somalia against al-Shabab. Recently we took a direct action in capturing Abu Khattala in Libya.

"So, again, we're going to do what's necessary. Clearly we're focused on Iraq in terms of these additional resources, but we'll continue to focus on the evolving threat of ISIL as we consider different options."

The briefers told reporters that U.S. "targeted" air strikes remain a "possibility...once we have better information."

"Look, we're not at the stage where we're preparing for air strikes, obviously," one official said. "The president hasn't asked us to do that. But, you know, whenever it comes to that, and where and when we do those kinds of things, we do them in a very precise, targeted, deliberate, measured way with the best possible intelligence that's available.

"And I would suspect that if it gets to that point, and if we -- in Iraq, then we will follow the same very rigorous procedures we follow elsewhere around the world."

The 300 American advisers being sent to Iraq will try to help Iraqi security forces break the momentum of ISIL, the briefers said. And those 300 are just a start.

"We're going to start with small teams, several small teams of special operators, the -- teams of about a dozen or so each. They're going to be embedded mostly at the higher headquarters levels within the ISF (Iraqi security forces), perhaps down as well at the brigade level.

"And they're...going to help us establish these joint operation centers that the president talked about, the two of them.  They're going to help us determine what the proper resources and staffing need to be for those things.

"They're going to assess the situation, as I said, and provide basic advice and recommendations, but the first job is really assessing. They're going to go in there and get us a little bit better sense of the state, the cohesiveness and the capability of Iraqi security forces, and then be able to give us some advice and recommendations about the future role of any additional advisers.

"So we're going to start small, and then we'll see what we learn from that."