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Obama OKs Syria airstrikes

Updated: 2014-09-12 07:39
By Agencies in Washington and Beirut (China Daily)

UK, Germany say they won't participate in military action

Opening a new military front in the Middle East, US President Barack Obama authorized US airstrikes inside Syria for the first time, along with expanded strikes in Iraq, as part of "a steady, relentless effort" to root out Islamic State extremists.

Obama announced on Wednesday night that he was sending nearly 500 more US troops to Iraq to assist that country's besieged security forces, bringing the total number of US forces sent there this summer to more than 1,500. He also urged Congress anew to authorize a program to train and arm Syrian rebels who are fighting both the Islamic State militants and Syrian President Bashar Assad.

"We will hunt down terrorists who threaten our country, wherever they are," Obama declared in a prime-time address to the nation from the White House. "This is a core principle of my presidency: If you threaten America, you will find no safe haven."

Obama's plans amounted to a striking shift for a president who rose to political prominence in part because of his early opposition to the Iraq War.

While in office, he has steadfastly sought to wind down US military campaigns in the Middle East and avoid new wars - particularly in Syria, a country where the chaos of an intractable civil war has given the Islamic State group space to thrive and move freely across the border with Iraq.

Obama's plans were also an admission that years of US-led war in the Middle East have not quelled the terror threat emanating from the region.

Obama insisted he was not returning US combat troops to the Middle East. Even so, he acknowledged that "any time we take military action, there are risks involved, especially to the servicemen and women who carry out these missions.

"But I want the American people to understand how this effort will be different from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It will not involve American combat troops fighting on foreign soil," he added.

'We have not been asked'

The foreign ministers of Germany and Britain said on Thursday they would not be taking part in air strikes in Syria against the Islamic State militant group.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier told a news conference in Berlin that Germany has not been asked to take part in the air strikes and would not be participating. "To be quite clear, we have not been asked to do so and neither will we do so," Steinmeier said.

His British counterpart Philip Hammond said Britain "supports entirely the US approach of developing an international coalition" against the Islamic State, whom he described as "barbaric", and said that in terms of how to help such a coalition "we have ruled nothing out".

But, asked by Reuters after his meeting with Steinmeier about Obama's proposal for air strikes against IS in Syria, Hammond replied: "Let me be clear: Britain will not be taking part in any air strikes in Syria. We have already had that discussion in our parliament last year and we won't be revisiting that position."

Call for support

US Secretary of State John Kerry pressed Arab leaders on Thursday to support Obama's plans, including help with greater overflight rights for US warplanes.

Detailing what Kerry would seek from regional partners at a meeting of Arab powers and Turkey in Jeddah, a senior State Department official said: "We may need enhanced basing and overflights. ... There's going to be a meeting soon of defense ministers to work on these details."

Any foreign intervention in Syria would be an act of aggression unless it is approved by Damascus, a Syrian government minister said on Thursday.

"Any action of any type without the approval of Syrian government is an aggression against Syria," Ali Haidar, Minister of National Reconciliation Affairs, told reporters in Damascus.

AP - Reuters

 

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