Pentagon Won't Confirm Intel Flights Over Syria

Caption: Sailors work on the flight deck of the U.S. Navy aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush on Sunday, Aug. 10, 2014 in the Persian Gulf. (AP Photo/Hasan Jamali)

The White House and the Pentagon declined Tuesday to confirm published reports that surveillance flights over Syria had begun to scout targets for potential airstrikes against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.

"The President still has not made any decisions about any military options in Syria," White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said aboard Air Force One enroute to Charlotte, N.C., where President Obama addressed a convention of the American Legion.

At the Pentagon, Rear Adm. John Kirby also declined to confirm the surveillance flights while stressing that "we'll do what we need to do to protect Americans" from ISIL.

However, Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters in Kabul Tuesday that the Pentagon needed better intelligence on ISIL formations and positions in Syria.

More than 60 surveillance flights daily over Iraq have given U.S. warplanes targeting information for airstrikes in Iraq, Dempsey said. The U.S. needed more intelligence on "the existence and activities of ISIS on the Syrian side," Dempsey said.

In his address to the American Legion, Obama focused on U.S. actions in Iraq while pledging his commitment to combating the "barbaric terrorists" of ISIL who last week beheaded American journalist James Foley.

Obama said the U.S. would remain committed to fighting back against any organizations that attack Americans, but he pledged not to repeat past U.S. mistakes of overextending the military in America's campaign against ISIL

"The answer is not to send in large-scale military deployments that overstretch our military and lead to us occupying countries for a long period of time and end up feeding terrorism," Obama said. "Rather, our military action in Iraq has to be part of a broader strategy to protect our people and support our partners to take the fight to ISIL."

"History teaches us of the dangers of overreaching," Obama told the audience of veterans. "And nobody knows this better than our veterans and our families -- our veteran families, because you're the ones who bear the wages of war.  You're the ones who carry the scars."

In line with the emphasis on partnering, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced that seven nations -- Albania, Canada, Croatia, Denmark, Italy, France, and the United Kingdom --- have committed to arming and equipping Kurdish forces in battling ISIL in northern Iraq.

The supply operations "have already begun and will accelerate in the coming days with more nations also expected to contribute," Hagel said in a statement.

The Defense Department has been reluctant to estimate the number of fighters in ISIL's ranks but the the State Department last week said that the terrorist group has been bolstered by a major influx of foreign fighters.

About 12,000 fighters from 50 countries, including as many as 100 from the U.S., have entered Syria to join ISIL and other terror groups since the Syrian civil war began in March 2011, the State Department said.

On CNN Sunday, Sir Peter Westmacott, Britain's ambassador to the U.S., said about 500 British nationals have joined ISIL.

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at

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Syria Iraq