PRESIDENT Barack Obama has signalled his intentions to extend US airstrikes into Syria in an effort to combat the advance of Islamic State in the region.
His address to the nation came on the eve of the 13th anniversary of the September 11 attacks, and exactly a year after Obama said that America would not intervene in the events in Syria.
Much has changed over the last year, however, the Syrian regime under Bashar al-Assad is no longer thought to be the greatest threat to the lives of civilians in the area.
Isil – The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant – formerly known as Isis or IS, has swept through the territories of northern Iraq and Syria over the last year. An extreme jihadist group belonging to the Sunni branch of Islam, they have dealt with Shi’ite Muslims, Christians, other ethnic groups and opposition in an equally bloodthirsty manner.
The beheading in recent weeks of two American citizens – journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff – has resulted in growing support in America for stronger military action. Obama has said that the extension of airstrikes into Syria is necessary to ensure the future security of the United States.
He said: “We will conduct a systematic campaign of airstrikes against these terrorists.
“I will not hesitate to take action against Isil in Syria, as well as Iraq.”
Limited airstrikes against Isil in Iraq have so far been portrayed as protecting American interests in the region, but with 154 strikes carried out to date, and over 1,000 American servicemen and women on the ground in ‘advisory’ roles, this claim for limited action is getting more and more tenuous.
It is likely that the airstrikes will increase in intensity over the coming months, although there are no immediate plans to launch into a full-blown campaign in Syria at the present time.
Intelligence agencies will work to identify specific targets, ensuring that Isil is dealt an effective blow.
The President went on: “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.
“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.”
The NATO summit in Cardiff, Wales, last week established the importance of securing the backing of nations including Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Turkey if any real progress was to be made against Isil.
France announced its support for action against IS fighters in Iraq if necessary, but expressed uncertainty about extending the fight into Syria, for fear of being seen to support President Bashar al-Assad.
The British government has announced that, as per the Iraqi government’s request, the UK will be supplying the Kurdish Peshmerga fighting forces with heavy machine guns and more than a million rounds of ammunition.
Although Cameron is yet to comment on Obama’s decision to extend strikes to Syria, the move to supply weapons to the Kurds where previously only non-lethal military supplies were being provided is significant.
It is thought that Obama’s plans will receive widespread support in the US Congress, although some criticism has been voiced that Isil does not pose a direct threat to American homeland security, and that much of Obama’s rhetoric is fear mongering in that regard.