Referring to the Islamic State as one of the “small groups of killers” that “have the capacity to do great harm,” President Obama announced tonight that “America will lead a broad coalition to roll back this terrorist threat.”
That four-pronged campaign will include “a systematic campaign of airstrikes” and increasing “support to forces fighting these terrorists on the ground.”
It will also include continuing “to draw on our substantial counterterrorism capabilities to prevent ISIL attacks” and “providing humanitarian assistance to innocent civilians who have been displaced by this terrorist organization.”
“In two weeks, I will chair a meeting of the UN Security Council to further mobilize the international community around this effort,” Obama said.
“As commander in chief, my highest priority is the security of the American people. Over the last several years, we have consistently taken the fight to terrorists who threaten our country. We took out Osama bin Laden and much of al-Qaeda’s leadership in Afghanistan and Pakistan. We’ve targeted al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Yemen, and recently eliminated the top commander of its affiliate in Somalia. We’ve done so while bringing more than 140,000 American troops home from Iraq, and drawing down our forces in Afghanistan, where our combat mission will end later this year,” he said.
“Still, we continue to face a terrorist threat. We cannot erase every trace of evil from the world, and small groups of killers have the capacity to do great harm. That was the case before 9/11, and that remains true today. That’s why we must remain vigilant as threats emerge. At this moment, the greatest threats come from the Middle East and North Africa, where radical groups exploit grievances for their own gain. And one of those groups is ISIL – which calls itself the Islamic State.”
Obama said he wanted to “make clear” that ISIL, or ISIS, is “not Islamic” and “certainly not a state.”
“If left unchecked, these terrorists could pose a growing threat beyond that region – including to the United States. While we have not yet detected specific plotting against our homeland, ISIL leaders have threatened America and our allies. Our intelligence community believes that thousands of foreigners – including Europeans and some Americans – have joined them in Syria and Iraq. Trained and battle-hardened, these fighters could try to return to their home countries and carry out deadly attacks,” he said. “I know many Americans are concerned about these threats.”
“Tonight, I want you to know that the United States of America is meeting them with strength and resolve…. Our objective is clear: we will degrade, and ultimately destroy, ISIL through a comprehensive and sustained counter-terrorism strategy.”
Obama called “a core principle of my presidency” the promise “if you threaten America, you will find no safe haven.”
He also indicated that there won’t be any alliance with the dictator in Damascus. “In the fight against ISIL, we cannot rely on an Assad regime that terrorizes its people; a regime that will never regain the legitimacy it has lost,” he said. “Instead, we must strengthen the opposition as the best counterweight to extremists like ISIL, while pursuing the political solution necessary to solve Syria’s crisis once and for all.”
The president said he “secured bipartisan support” for his four-pronged approach.
“I have the authority to address the threat from ISIL. But I believe we are strongest as a nation when the president and Congress work together. So I welcome congressional support for this effort in order to show the world that Americans are united in confronting this danger,” he said.
“This counter-terrorism campaign will be waged through a steady, relentless effort to take out ISIL wherever they exist, using our air power and our support for partner forces on the ground. This strategy of taking out terrorists who threaten us, while supporting partners on the front lines, is one that we have successfully pursued in Yemen and Somalia for years. And it is consistent with the approach I outlined earlier this year: to use force against anyone who threatens America’s core interests, but to mobilize partners wherever possible to address broader challenges to international order.”
Obama veered toward job creation and energy independence, adding that “despite all the divisions and discord within our democracy, I see the grit and determination and common goodness of the American people every single day.”
“American leadership is the one constant in an uncertain world. It is America that has the capacity and the will to mobilize the world against terrorists. It is America that has rallied the world against Russian aggression, and in support of the Ukrainian peoples’ right to determine their own destiny. It is America – our scientists, our doctors, our know-how – that can help contain and cure the outbreak of Ebola. It is America that helped remove and destroy Syria’s declared chemical weapons so they cannot pose a threat to the Syrian people – or the world – again. And it is America that is helping Muslim communities around the world not just in the fight against terrorism, but in the fight for opportunity, tolerance, and a more hopeful future.”