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Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Obama orders US airstrikes in Syria against Islamic State

US President Barack Obama speaks during a primetime address to the nation from the Cross Hall of the White House in Washington, DC, September 10, 2014. (AFP)

President Barack Obama told Americans he had authorized US airstrikes for the first time in Syria and more attacks in Iraq in a broad escalation of a campaign against the Islamic State militant group.

Obama's decision to launch attacks inside Syria, which is embroiled in a three-year civil war, showed the seriousness of the threat American officials see from Islamic State. A year ago, the president shied away from airstrikes against Syria's government for its use of chemical weapons against Syrians.

Obama laid out his emerging plan for tackling the group in a widely anticipated White House speech, two weeks after coming under fire for saying: "We don't have a strategy yet" for the group in Syria and six months after declaring that groups like Islamic State were minor players.

"Our objective is clear: we will degrade, and ultimately destroy, ISIL through a comprehensive and sustained counter-terrorism strategy," Obama said, using an acronym for Islamic State.

He said he would hunt down Islamic State militants "wherever they are."

"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," he said.

He said he would expand the list of targets inside Iraq beyond several isolated areas. He will send 475 more American advisers to help Iraqi forces, joining more than 1,000 already there. They will not engage in combat.

In a significant move that could help rally Gulf Arab states behind the US-led coalition, key ally Saudi Arabia will host inside its territory a US training effort for Syrian rebels, senior US officials said. The effort is dependent on the US Congress approving $500 million to train and arm the rebels.

The Saudi decision emerged after Obama spoke by phone earlier in the day with Saudi King Abdullah, who has pressed the American government to do more resolve the Syrian conflict.

Obama has staked much of his foreign policy record on having extracted US forces from Iraq after running for president in 2008 on a pledge to end what he felt was an unnecessary conflict begun by his Republican predecessor, George W. Bush.

What specifically each nation will do in the coalition remains to be hammered out. Secretary of State John Kerry is meeting Gulf allies in the region and Obama is to host a leaders' security conference at the UN General Assembly in two weeks with the aim of fleshing out duties of the coalition.

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