WASHINGTON – A senior White House official raised the possibility Friday of a broader American military campaign that targets an Islamic extremist group’s bases in Syria, saying the U.S would take whatever action is necessary to protect national security.
We’re not going to be restricted by borders, said Ben Rhodes, deputy national security adviser.
The White House said the president has received no military options beyond those he authorized this month for limited airstrikes against the Islamic State in Iraq and military aid to Iraqi and Kurdish forces.
Thus far, the United States has avoided military involvement in Syria’s three-year civil war. But faced with the Islamic State making gains across the region and the beheading of an American journalist, the administration’s resistance may be weakening.
The recent execution of journalist James Foley could be seen as a turning point in a long-running battle against the Islamic State, whose origin is in an al-Qaida offshoot that U.S. forces faced in Iraq several years ago, he said.
Foley’s killing, he added, was an attack on our country.
Rhodes spoke a day after President Barack Obama’s top military adviser warned that the extremists cannot be defeated without addressing their sanctuary in Syria.
Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Thursday that Islamic State militants can be contained only so long, and at some point, their Syrian sanctuary will have to be dealt with.
Can they be defeated without addressing that part of their organization which resides in Syria? The answer is no, he told a Pentagon news conference where Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel called the group a dire threat that requires an international, not just an American, response.
Obama faces tough decisions. He can continue helping Iraqi forces try to reverse the group’s land grabs in northern Iraq by providing more arms and American military advisers and by using U.S. warplanes to support Iraqi ground operations.
On Friday, the Pentagon announced that U.S. warplanes made three more airstrikes against Islamic State targets near the Mosul Dam.
But what if the militants pull back, even partially, into Syria and regroup, as Hagel on Thursday predicted they would, followed by a renewed offensive?
In a sense, you’re just sort of back to where you were, said Robert Ford, a former U.S. ambassador to Syria who quit in February in disillusionment over Obama’s unwillingness to arm moderate Syrian rebels.
I don’t see how you can contain the Islamic State over the medium term if you don’t address their base of operations in Syria, he said in an interview before intensified U.S. airstrikes this week helped Kurdish and Iraqi forces recapture the Mosul Dam.
Obama has difficult choices to make. Among his options:
Sending more troops to Baghdad to strengthen security for the U.S. Embassy, as requested by the State Department. Officials said the number under consideration is less than 300. They would be in addition to several hundred U.S. troops already in the capital helping to protect U.S. facilities and personnel.
Speeding up the arming of Iraqi and Kurdish forces. The administration has been supplying Iraqi government forces with Hellfire missiles, small arms and ammunition, but critics say the pace is too slow.
Increasing the number and expanding the role of the dozens of U.S. military advisers coordinating with Iraqi forces in Baghdad and the Kurdish capital of Irbil. They could be given more direct roles in assisting Iraqis on the ground by embedding with units in the field or scouting targets for U.S. airstrikes.