Lawmakers expressed support for stronger U.S. action against extremists in Iraq and Syria, with both Democrats and Republicans calling on President Barack Obama to formulate a more aggressive strategy against the group known as Islamic State.
“I think it’s very, very serious. We have to have a strategy to deal with it in Syria and Iraq, in this new caliphate, and to prevent that caliphate from expanding,” Senator Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat, said in an interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press” program that aired today.
The Obama administration’s strategy for confronting Islamic State has drawn new attention after reports that the group includes hundreds of members holding U.S. or European passports who could travel back to conduct attacks in their home countries.
Representative Dutch Ruppersberger of Maryland, the top-ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence committee, said the “biggest threat” to the U.S. are Americans and Britons who join extremist groups and also hold passports that make it easier for them to travel back to the U.S. -- and harder for intelligence officials to identify.
The U.K. has raised its terror threat to “severe,” the second-highest level, and Prime Minister David Cameron will announce legislation tomorrow that would make it easier to confiscate passports of people suspected of wanting to travel to join extremist groups.
“We have to defeat ISIS,” McCain said on CBS’s “Face the Nation” program, using an acronym for Islamic State. “Not contain, not stop. Defeat.”
Obama last week said the U.S. has no immediate plans to strike Islamic State havens inside Syria and that a strategy for confronting the extremist group beyond Iraq is still being drafted.
Obama said the U.S. will continue airstrikes on Islamic State positions and equipment in northern Iraq, as the “core priority” is protecting U.S. personnel and preventing extremists from overtaking the country. The U.S. has carried out more than 100 airstrikes against Islamic State positions since the campaign began Aug. 8.
Obama said he’d “consult” with Congress about a strategy for the region, stopping short of saying he’d wait for congressional approval for airstrikes or other actions. The president already has authorized surveillance flights over Syria to track the militants.
Obama administration officials “are putting the pieces of the strategy together,” Michele Flournoy, the president’s former undersecretary of defense for policy, said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” program.
She noted the surveillance flights over Syria, the formation of a new Iraqi government under Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi, and that Secretary of State John Kerry would travel to the region to build a multi-nation coalition to address the threat.
“The pieces are starting to emerge,” though Obama “wants to take his time to get it right,” Flournoy said.
Ruppersberger said he expects “action within the next week or two” in Syria after U.S. officials collect the necessary intelligence.
“You just don’t come in and bomb unless you know where you are, who you are going to get,” Ruppersberger said on CNN’s “State of the Union” program.
“We have got to go in cautiously. We have to understand where our targets are. We should have been doing this for a very long time, assessing this,” Representative Adam Kinzinger, an Illinois Republican and military veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, said on CNN.
Representative Adam Smith, a Democrat from Washington state, urged U.S. officials to ally with moderate Sunnis in the region, saying that otherwise attacking the militants would indirectly assist Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad.
“We do not want to go into this on the side of Assad,” Smith said on CBS.
Pressure to confront Islamic State increased after the extremists beheaded U.S. journalist James Foley earlier this month. Human-rights groups said Islamic State executed more than 100 Syrian soldiers in an attack on the Tabaqa military airport.
Raqqa, where U.S. officials think Foley and other hostages have been held, is the first province fully outside Assad’s control, cementing Islamic State’s hold over its self-declared caliphate. That allows it to focus on neighboring Aleppo province, home to Syria’s largest city and commercial capital, where it already has seized villages and towns previously held by other rebels.
To contact the editors responsible for this story: Maura Reynolds at firstname.lastname@example.org Laurence Arnold