US president Barack Obama on Wednesday announced a broad international coalition to take on ISIS, vowing to hunt it down no matter where it was, including Syria.
“I have made it clear that we will hunt down terrorists who threaten our country, wherever they are,” he said in a speech on the eve of the 13th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.
“That means," he added, “I will not hesitate to take action against ISIL (an alternate acronym for ISIS, which is also sometimes called just IS, for Islamic State) in Syria, as well as Iraq.”
But there will be no US troops on the ground in Syria. And those already in Iraq — he is sending 475 more, he said — will advise and train local forces, not engage in combat operations.
“We will not get dragged into another ground war in Iraq.”
The ISIS operations will be modeled on those the United States has been conducting in Yemen and Somalia — taking out key terrorist, mostly of the al Qaeda, in surgical operations.
Anwar al-Awlaki, American-born chief of al Qaeda in Yemen, was killed in a drone strike in 2011. And Ahmed Godane, al-Shabaab co-founder was killed similarly last week.The coalition would include regional Sunni powers such as Saudi Arabia, which has agreed to train Syrian rebels, and traditional US allies in Europe and Australia and Canada.
There was no word on the timing of airstrikes in Syria. “We will take action on the Syrian side of the border to degrade ISIL,” said a senior administration official.
“But we’re not going to telegraph our punches by being specific about the time and nature of the target.” They could happen, in short, whenever there is good intelligence.
And that has been a problem. An attempt to rescue American journalists James Foley, who was executed by ISIS later, and other failed in July because of poor intelligence.
Surveillance flights over Syria multiplied several fold immediately after Foley’s death to plug this intelligence gap, which, would probably yield better results now.
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But the United Stated made it clear anti-ISIS operations in Syria and Iraq will not be coordinated either with Syrian president Bashar al-Assad or the Iranians, respectively.
Assad may appear strategically positioned to gain from any setbacks suffered by ISIS on account of US strikes, but Obama administration officials said things wouldn't turn out so.
“We do not think that our efforts in Syria will provide an opening to Assad because, frankly, the areas where ISIL has a stronghold in Syria would simply not accept Assad’s rule.”
And on Iran’s role in the fight and coordinating anti-ISIS efforts with it, the official said, “we do not cooperate or coordinate military activity with Iran.”
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