Obama seeks Congress nod to escalate fight against ISIS

12 Feb 2015


US President Barack Obama on Wednesday sent Congress a formal request to authorise military force against the Islamic State. The move met immediate resistance from Republicans as well as his fellow Democrats wary of another war in East Asia.

US President Barack ObamaRepublicans, who control Congress and say Obama's foreign policy is too passive, want stronger measures against the militants than outlined in the plan, which bars any large-scale invasion by US ground troops and covers the next three years.

Obama acknowledged that the military campaign is difficult and will remain so. "But our coalition is on the offensive. ISIL is on the defensive, and ISIL is going to lose," he said in a televised statement from the White House.

With many of Obama's fellow Democrats insisting the plan is too broad because it includes no blanket ban on ground troops, it could be difficult for the authorisation to pass, even though six months have passed since the campaign began.

However, media commentaries as in The New York Times say Obama has cleverly threaded the needle with his wording to appease both sides - the measure prohibits ''enduring offensive ground combat operations'', thus ruling out a long-drawn ground involvement as in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Obama consulted with Republicans and Democrats in writing the resolution, and said he would continue to do so. He said the time frame was intended to let Congress revisit the issue when the next president takes office in 2017.

The proposal says the Islamic State "has committed despicable acts of violence and mass execution". Its militants have killed thousands of civilians while seizing territory in Iraq and Syria in an attempt to establish a hub of Muslim extremism in the heart of the Arab world.

They have also generated international outrage by beheading western aid workers and journalists and burning to death a Jordanian pilot.

Obama sent his request to Congress a day after his administration confirmed the death of Kayla Mueller, a 26-year-old aid worker who was the last known American hostage.

Decision to be quick
Both the Senate and House of Representatives must approve Obama's plan. Lawmakers said they would begin hearings quickly as Republicans made clear they thought the plan fell short.

The Republican Speaker of the House of Representatives, John Boehner, told reporters he was sure the plan would change as it moved through Congress. "I'm not sure the strategy that has been outlined will accomplish the mission the president says he wants to accomplish," he added.

Obama has defended his authority to lead an international coalition against Islamic State since 8 August when US fighter jets began attacks in Iraq. The formal request eased criticism of Obama's failure to seek the backing of Congress, where some accused him of breaching his constitutional authority.

With Republicans in control of Congress after routing Obama's Democrats in November elections, the president also wants lawmakers to share responsibility for the campaign against Islamic State and present a united front.

The plan does not authorise "long-term, large-scale ground combat operations", but leaves the door open for Special Operations forces to operate on the ground even as air strikes continue.

Obama said those operations would be left to local forces, but lawmakers are worried they would not be up to the mark. "What is the role, really, that regional partners are playing in this battle against ISIL?" asked Democratic Senator Tim Kaine.

The draft allows for certain ground combat operations including hostage rescues and the use of special forces. It permits the use of US forces for intelligence collection, targeting operations for drone strikes and planning and giving other assistance to local forces.

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