(CNSNews.com) – President Obama laid out a four-part strategy Wednesday night to “degrade and ultimately destroy” the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS/ISIL), saying he will not hesitate to extend airstrikes to Syria.
Addressing the nation from the White House, he used the opportunity to repeat the administration’s rejection of the jihadists' claim to be acting on behalf of Islam.
“Now let’s make two things clear: ISIL is not Islamic,” he said. “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,” Obama added. “It was formerly al-Qaeda’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.”
Earlier, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) lobby group expressed the hope that Obama would use the address “to reject ISIS’ misappropriation of Islamic terms and concepts.”In a prime time speech coming against a backdrop of his worst-ever opinion poll ratings, Obama said America will lead “a broad coalition to roll back this terrorist threat.”
The strategy would encompass “a systematic campaign of airstrikes”; support for forces on the ground fighting against ISIS both in Iraq and Syria; a counter-terrorism effort including cutting off funding, stemming the flow of foreign fighters, strengthening defenses and countering ISIS’ “warped ideology”; and continuing to provide humanitarian aid for ISIS’ victims.
“I have made it clear that we will hunt down terrorists who threaten our country, wherever they are,” he said. “That means I will not hesitate to take action against ISIL in Syria, as well as Iraq. This is a core principle of my presidency: if you threaten America, you will find no safe haven.”
Obama, who ran for office pledging to end two wars, said he wanted Americans “to understand how this effort will be different from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.”
“It will not involve American combat troops fighting on foreign soil,” he said. “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.”
“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,” Obama continued, alluding to the use of drone-launched missiles to target and kill terrorists in the troubled Arab nations on either side of the Gulf of Aden.
“And it is consistent with the approach I outlined earlier this year: to use force against anyone who threatens America’s core interests, but to mobilize partners wherever possible to address broader challenges to the international order.”
'America is safer'
On the eve of the 13th anniversary of the al-Qaeda attack on America, a NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found that 47 percent of Americans believe the nation to be less safe now than at any other point since September 11, 2001, up from 28 percent a year ago.
As he began his address at the White House, Obama pushed back on that perception.
“Thanks to our military and counterterrorism professionals, America is safer,” he said, citing the death of Osama bin Laden, the targeting of al-Qaeda leaders in South Asia, Yemen and Somalia, and the troop withdrawals from Iraq and Afghanistan.
He went on to acknowledge, however, that “we continue to face a terrorist threat.”
“We cannot erase every trace of evil from the world, and small groups of killers have the capacity to do great harm. That was the case before 9/11, and that remains true today. That’s why we must remain vigilant as threats emerge.
“At this moment, the greatest threats come from the Middle East and North Africa, where radical groups exploit grievances for their own gain. And one of those groups is ISIL, which calls itself the Islamic State.”
While Obama reiterated that U.S. combat troops will not be deployed to the fight against ISIS, he also announced he is sending an additional 475 military personnel to Iraq, “to support Iraqi and Kurdish forces with training, intelligence and equipment.”
That will bring the total number of troops stationed in Iraq to about 1518. The Pentagon said ahead of the speech the U.S. has approximately 1,043 troops there, including 289 personnel located at joint operations centers in Baghdad and Erbil and advising and assisting Iraqi security forces, and 754 providing additional security for the U.S. Embassy in the Iraqi capital.
Obama touched on the coalition-in-the-making to tackle the ISIS threat, although without naming any countries.
“Already, allies are flying planes with us over Iraq; sending arms and assistance to Iraqi security forces and the Syrian opposition; sharing intelligence; and providing billions of dollars in humanitarian aid,” he said.
He noted that Secretary of State John Kerry was traveling in the Middle East and Europe this week “to enlist more partners in this fight, especially Arab nations who can help mobilize Sunni communities in Iraq and Syria to drive these terrorists from their lands.”
Kerry was in Jordan on Wednesday night, and is due to go to Saudi Arabia on Thursday for a meeting that will draw in a number of Arab countries, then on to France.