WASHINGTON, United States – President Barack Obama said he would not hesitate to send US special forces to kill top Islamic State extremists, as he called on Congress Wednesday to authorize operations that stop short of a full-scale invasion.
Tantamount to a declaration of war, Obama asked Congress for authority to take the fight to the Islamic State group, beyond their current bases in Syria and Iraq if necessary.
“Our coalition is on the offensive,” he said, adding Islamic State is “on the defensive” and is “going to lose.”
He promised to augment the largely air-focused offensive with stealth attacks if necessary.
“If we had actionable intelligence about a gathering of ISIL (Islamic State) leaders, and our partners didn’t have the capacity to get them, I would be prepared to order our special forces to take action,” Obama said.
“I will not allow these terrorists to have a safe haven.”
The request signals a ramping up of pressure on IS as the Iraqi government prepares for a major ground offensive, expected within months.
It would also provide a firmer legal basis to prosecute a months-old military campaign and provide political cover at home.
Since mid-2014, the US military has been conducting a campaign of air strikes against IS in Iraq and Syria.
With the death of US hostage Kayla Mueller and the killing of three other US hostages, Obama has been under pressure to re-examine his strategy and step up the fight.
But in order to win the backing of the Republican-controlled Congress, and overcome jitters within his own Democratic party, Obama placed limits on his power to deploy the military in both form and scope.
The proposed legislation “does not authorize the use of the United States Armed Forces in enduring offensive ground combat operations,” the draft sent to Congress read.
Obama declared that the United States “should not get dragged back into another prolonged ground war in the Middle East.”
The authorization would also “terminate three years after the date of the enactment of this joint resolution, unless reauthorized.”
Obama will also have to report to Congress every six months.
With the 2016 elections approaching and the bitter arguments over previous wars still seared in US political memory, Obama was quick to make clear this would not be a sequel to Iraq or Afghanistan.
“Local forces on the ground who know their countries best are best positioned to take the ground fight to ISIL”, he said.
Republican Senator Bob Corker, who chairs the Senate foreign relations committee, said he would “quickly begin to hold rigorous hearings” on the authorization, which he supports.
Other Republicans have warned that the language in the text could hamper the military, limiting its ability to choose the best strategy.
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