US President Barack Obama answers questions in the White
House Press Briefing Room ahead of a meeting with his
national security council in Washington. REUTERS/Larry
President Barack Obama says the United States has not yet
developed a strategy for confronting Islamic State in Syria, an
acknowledgement that a decision had not been made on whether to
launch air strikes against the militant group.
Obama's comment during a White House news conference before a
meeting of national security advisers about how to proceed
against Islamic State drew criticism from Republicans and a
clarification from White House spokesman Josh Earnest.
Representative Tom Price, a Georgia Republican, said on
Twitter: "President says "we don't have a strategy yet" to
deal with #ISIS. That's obvious and increasingly
Earnest said Obama was referring to military options and that
Obama has a comprehensive strategy for confronting the group
through diplomatic means.
Obama's decision to begin US surveillance flights over Syria
this week prompted speculation that he was on the brink of
expanding the fight against Islamic State from Iraq into
Syria and criticism from some lawmakers concerned that they
had not been properly consulted over possible US actions.
Republicans and Democrats in Congress have called for
lawmakers to vote on whether the United States should broaden
its action against the Islamic State.
Obama shied away from launching air strikes in Syria a year
ago to punish Syrian President Bashir al-Assad for using
chemical weapons against his own people, and he has been
reluctant to get involved in Syria's civil war, believing
there are few options for the United States.
Public anger over the beheading of American journalist James
Foley, however, has led Obama to consider military strikes
against Islamic State targets in Syria. So far, the US has
limited its actions to the group's forces in Iraq.
Obama said he has asked Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to
prepare options for confronting Islamic State and said
Secretary of State John Kerry would travel to the region to
help create an anti-Islamic State coalition.
Obama's strategy for Islamic State is not limited to military
action. It includes supporting moderate Sunni rebels in Syria
and encouraging a unity government in Baghdad between
Shi'ites and Sunnis, who have engaged in sectarian battles.
"My priority at this point is to make sure that the gains
that ISIL (Islamic State) made in Iraq are rolled back and
that Iraq has the opportunity to govern itself effectively
and secure itself," he said.
Obama said the options he had requested from military
planners at the Pentagon focused primarily on making certain
that Islamic State is "not overrunning Iraq."
Congressional concerns over potential US military strikes in
Syria have increased.
In a letter to House Speaker John Boehner, Democrats James
McGovern of Massachusetts and Barbara Lee of California and
Republican Walter Jones of North Carolina asked for
Congressional debate and a vote on any authorization to use
Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell, the top Republican in the
Senate, said he thought Obama would have "significant
congressional support" if he provided a strategic plan to
protect the United States and its allies from the Sunni
Obama promised that he would consult Congress, but unlike a
year ago when strikes were considered against Syria, he did
not vow to seek specific congressional authorization.
"I don't want to put the cart before the horse," he said. He
said news reports have suggested he is on the verge of an
elaborate strategy for defeating the group without consulting
"That's not what's going to happen," he said.