President Barack Obama is authorizing the start of airstrikes in Syria and expanding the monthlong bombing campaign in Iraq to “degrade and ultimately destroy” Islamist militants who recently beheaded two Americans, he told the nation Wednesday evening.
The decisions, detailed in a prime-time address on the eve of the 13th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terror attacks, would considerably deepen U.S. military involvement in the Middle East and mark an acknowledgment by Mr. Obama that the intensity of the threat from the militant group Islamic State requires the type of long-term, open-ended conflict he has resisted since taking office—and which he campaigned for the White House saying he would avoid.
Mr. Obama’s strategy to combat the extremist group that calls itself Islamic State, also known as ISIS and ISIL, is designed to help Iraqis reclaim large swaths of territory the group has overtaken since spilling over from its stronghold in neighboring Syria in recent months, administration officials said. That means the U.S. would for the first time strike at the group’s bases and havens in Syria, officials said.
“America will lead a broad coalition to roll back this terrorist threat,” Mr. Obama said. “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.”
The president’s plan, which officials said has no timetable, builds on his authorization in August of airstrikes in Iraq to protect American personnel threatened by Islamic State and provide humanitarian assistance to besieged Iraqis.
Administration officials said U.S. airstrikes in Syria would be conducted in a targeted way that wouldn’t embolden President Bashar al-Assad.
“We will go after ISIL wherever they are, and that includes Syria,” a senior administration official said. “There should be no mistake that the United States is prepared to take action on both sides of that border.”
White House officials on Wednesday said the administration had authority to conduct the strikes in Syria in part based on the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force passed by Congress in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.