WASHINGTON — President Obama said Tuesday that he will “do what’s necessary” to fight the militants he is targeting with airstrikes in Syria and that he’ll do so with the support of regional partners whose coordinated bombing makes it “clear to the world that this is not America’s fight alone.”
Speaking just before his departure for New York to meet with world leaders at the United Nations, Obama said the bombings he ordered overnight in Syria had the support of Arab coalition partners.
“America’s proud to stand shoulder to shoulder with these nations,” Obama told reporters at the White House, recalling that when he first announced plans for the air campaign he’d promised that “America would act as part of a broad coalition. And that’s exactly what we’ve done.”
The president spoke hours after the Pentagon announced the U.S. and several Arab allies began bombing inside Syria, a major expansion of the war on Islamic State militants who have overtaken large parts of Iraq and Syria. The bombings hit several areas of northern Syria, from Aleppo, its largest city, to the increasingly disintegrating border with Iraq more than 220 miles to the east, according to the Pentagon.
The aerial raids targeted the Islamic State militants as well as another terrorist network the administration identified as the Khorasan group, describing it as a network of al-Qaida veterans plotting an attack “against the United States and Western interests.”
Speaking on the South Lawn at the White House, Obama did not elaborate on the threat he believed that the Khorasan group posed to the U.S., calling it only a group of “seasoned al-Qaida operatives.”
The strikes indicated that Obama now has broader objectives for the U.S. air campaign in Syria than those he stressed in his prime-time address outlining his plans two weeks ago. Obama cast the potential strikes as necessary to root out the Islamic State in its stronghold. White House officials had made scant reference to the Khorasan group before the attack.
At the U.N. General Assembly, Obama is due to push for a show of global condemnation against the Islamic State by sponsoring a resolution urging a crackdown on foreign fighters who leave their home countries to join extremists. U.S. officials also suggested they would use the global meeting to continue to solicit allies in the fight and firm up commitments.
He said Tuesday that he will “continue building support for the coalition,” but warned that the effort to counter the extremists is not a short-term proposition.
“The overall effort will take time,” Obama said, “but we’re going to do what’s necessary to take the fight to this terrorist group.”
As he arrives at the U.N., Obama may face pressure to demonstrate the legal basis for the Syrian strikes without an authorization from the U.N. Security Council or, it appears, consent from the Syrian government.
Some time after Obama announced his plans to strike inside Syria, the U.S. informed the Syrian representative at the U.N. of Obama’s intent to act, the administration said Tuesday. The U.S. warned Syria not to engage U.S. aircraft but did not request the regime’s permission nor coordinate its actions, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.
“We did not provide advance notification to the Syrians at a military level, or give any indication of our timing on specific targets,” Psaki said.
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