President Barack Obama is seeking support of allies in the Middle East and elsewhere as he decides whether to take military action against Islamic State targets in Syria.
Obama and officials from the State and Defense departments along with intelligence agencies have been in contact with their counterparts among U.S. allies to discuss the next phase in efforts to stem advances by the Islamic State, White House press secretary Josh Earnest said today.
He refused to give any timetable for Obama’s decision on taking further action, whether in Syria or Iraq, and repeated the administration’s stance that bombs alone won’t end the threat.
“A U.S.-led military operation is not an enduring solution to the situation,” Earnest said at the White House.
Amid a campaign of airstrikes against Islamic State targets in northern Iraq, Obama has authorized surveillance flights over Syria, where the extremist group also has seized territory. Those missions could serve as a prelude to airstrikes.
U.S. aircraft struck Islamic State positions again today, bringing to 101 the total airstrikes in Iraq since the campaign began on Aug. 8.
Rear Admiral John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, declined to say which nations would help the U.S. in Syria .
“There have been no decisions about actions in Syria so I won’t get ahead of any kind of potential future operations,” Kirby said today during an interview with CNN. “The long-term answer here in both Iraq and Syria is good governance, trying to remove the conditions in which they have been allowed to fester and grow, the insecurity, the instability.”
Earnest said the “outreach and engagement is taking place at the highest levels.” The threat posed by Islamic State also will be a topic discussed by Obama and other leaders from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization when they meet in Wales next week.
The New York Times today quoted officials it didn’t identify as saying the countries likely to be included in an alliance are Australia, the U.K., Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates.
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott would consider joining a coalition under certain conditions, his office said in response to e-mailed questions.
“Our response to any request from the United States, or other close allies and partners, will be based on whether there is an achievable overall humanitarian purpose and a clear and proportionate role for Australia as well as on a careful assessment of the risks,” Abbott’s office said. “Australia is not considering putting combat forces on the ground.”
“We have to use our power wisely,” Obama said yesterday in remarks to the American Legion, the nation’s largest veterans service organization, in Charlotte, North Carolina. “History teaches about the dangers of overreaching.”
Without referring to Syria, Obama said that rooting out the “cancer” of the Islamic State “won’t be easy and won’t be quick.”
After more than two months of territorial gains in Iraq, Islamic State made its latest breakthrough over the weekend in Syria, seizing an air base and dislodging President Bashar al-Assad’s government forces from their last stronghold in the northeastern Raqqa province. That prompted the Syrian government, which almost became the target of U.S. military action a year ago, to call for a joint effort against the Islamist threat, while warning the U.S. against taking unilateral action.
Obama will probably order at least limited strikes against Islamic State fighters because of the threat the group may pose to American citizens and interests, as well as to Iraq and other Sunni Arab states such as Jordan, according to a U.S. official.
Airstrikes are likely to be of diminishing value, though, because more Islamic State fighters may start shielding themselves in populated areas and forcing civilians to serve as human shields for convoys in open country, officials said.
Even so, attacks -- or the threat of them -- may limit the militants’ movements and force them to think about defending their positions in Syria, stalling their momentum in Iraq and thereby the group’s recruiting appeal, they said.
Earnest said U.S. officials were seeking partners to confront the Islamic State threat, both in Iraq and Syria. The U.S. strategy, he said, “does not rely solely on the American military.”