(WASHINGTON) — President Obama admitted Thursday that his administration does not have a strategy to combat the militant Islamic group Islamic State of Iraq and Syria that has grabbed large chunks of Iraq and Syria.
The president said he would be meeting later Thursday with the National Security Council.
“The options that I’m asking for from the Joint Chiefs focuses primarily on making sure that ISIL is not overrunning Iraq,” Obama said during a news conference in the White House briefing room, using another acronym for the militant Islamic group ISIS.
When the president was asked if he would seek congressional approval for U.S. attacks on ISIS targets in Syria, he responded, “I don’t want to put the cart before the horse. We don’t have a strategy yet…Some of the news reports suggests that folks are getting a little further ahead of where we’re at than we currently are.”
Earlier this week, the president approved military surveillance flights over Syria, but airstrikes in that country have not been authorized. U.S. military planes have carried out over 100 airstrikes in Iraq.
“As commander-in-chief, I will always do what is necessary to protect the American people,” he said. “Our military action in Iraq has to be part of a broader comprehensive strategy to protect our people and to support our partners who are taking the fight to [ISIS].”
Obama said he is dispatching Secretary of State John Kerry to the area to work with allies, and ordered Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel to prepare “a range of options” as he considers future military action.
“It also means that states in the region stop being ambivalent about these extremist groups,” Obama said. “This should be a wake-up call to Sunni, to Shia, to everybody that a group like ISIS is beyond the pale; that they have no vision or ideology beyond violence and chaos and the slaughter of innocent people.”
“We’ve got to all join together — even if we have differences on a range of political issues — to make sure that they’re rooted out,” he added.
The president promised to continue to consult with Congress in the days and weeks ahead.
“I do think that it’ll be important for Congress to weigh in, or that our consultations with Congress continue to develop, so that the American people are part of the debate.” he said. “I will consult with Congress and made sure their voices are heard.”
Following Obama’s remarks, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell predicted the president would have “significant congressional support” if he engages legislators in the development of his plans.
“The President needs to develop a regional strategy, working with our allies, to defeat ISIL and to use the full extent of his authorities to attack this enemy force,” McConnell, R-Ky., wrote in a statement. “But don’t forget, the threat from ISIL is real and it’s growing — and it is time for President Obama to exercise some leadership in launching a response.”
Secretary of State John Kerry has also consistently advocated for a powerful response.
“The world must know that the United States of America will never back down in the face of such evil,” Kerry said in a statement released last week. “ISIL and the wickedness it represents must be destroyed.”
Following his remarks, Obama was scheduled to meet with his National Security Council in the Situation Room, with Vice President Joe Biden and Kerry.
Since video emerged Aug. 19 showing the beheading of American journalist James Foley, Obama has fought back against fresh criticism of his foreign policy, promising to be “relentless” in his fight against the emerging threat posed by ISIS.
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