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Obama unveils US plans to fight Islamic militants

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President Obama announced tonight he plans to ramp up U.S. military involvement in the Middle East in an attempt to defeat the terrorist organization ISIS, also known as ISIL.

However, he also set clear limits on that involvement, which will employ airstrikes to target Islamic State fighters in both Iraq and Syria, according to Politico.

"With a new Iraqi government in place, and following consultations with allies abroad and Congress at home, I can announce that America will lead a broad coalition to roll back this terrorist threat," Obama said. "Our objective is clear: we will degrade, and ultimately destroy, ISIL through a comprehensive and sustained counter-terrorism strategy.”

The president outlined a four-point strategy, summarized by ABC News:

1. Increasing airstrikes in the region

  • The president said he will expand the current airstrikes beyond the original two missions: protecting Americans and providing humanitarian aid. Instead, airstrikes will be used a part of a broader effort to roll back ISIS in Iraq.
  • The military will not be constrained by the Syrian border, Obama said. The administration will work with DOD to develop and advance whatever options are necessary to take targeted action wherever ISIS is – whether in Iraq or Syria.

2. Strengthening troops 

  • The president plans to send an additional 475 U.S. service members to Iraq to assist Iraqi and Kurdish forces there. Troops will not be placed into combat roles.
  • Obama is calling for Congress to authorize and pay for training and equipment for the Syrian opposition.

3. Preventing terrorist attacks 

  • The U.S. will draw on a range of counter-terrorism tactics to prevent attacks on the homeland.
  • It will also take steps to counter ISIS’ “warped” ideology, Obama said.
  • The U.S. will work to stem the flow of fighters traveling to and from the region.

4. Protecting civilians 

  •  The U.S. will continue providing humanitarian assistance to innocent civilians who have been displaced by ISIS, including Sunni and Shia Muslims as well as Iraqi Christians and other religious minorities.

The new strategy is a major shift for Obama, who has sought to wind down American military campaigns in the Middle East and avoid new wars, the Associated Press reports.

The president explained to the American people how this effort will be different from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"It will not involve American combat troops fighting on foreign soil. 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," Obama said. "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.”

(Full transcript of the president's remarks here)

The group recently branched off from Al Qaida in Iraq, and according to administration officials it poses a great threat to Iraq, Syria and Americans in the region.

The militants released videos in recent weeks of the beheadings of two American journalists in Syria. Closer to home, two young men with Minnesota ties were reportedly killed in a firefight in Syria after being recruited to fight for ISIS. The FBI is looking into ISIS recruiting efforts in the state.

The group in question is referred to as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), and simply the Islamic State. What's the distinction between those names? The Wall Street Journal has an explainer.

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