Obama: US Readies Iraq Offensive Against ISIL

President Barack Obama

President Obama said Sunday that the U.S. was preparing to "go on some offense" against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and he would likely seek additional funding from Congress to back action against the extremists.

Obama said he would lay out the details of his plan in an address to the nation Wednesday, the eve of the 13th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks. He stressed that "this is not going to be an announcement about ground troops" from the U.S. taking part in the offensive.

In an interview on NBC's "Meet The Press," Obama said the U.S. has already taken action to halt ISIL advances, protect U.S. personnel and facilities, and provide humanitarian aid.

"The next phase is to start going on some offense," Obama said. Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, and other administration critics have called for immediate airstrikes against ISIL bases in Syria, but Obama suggested that the initial offensive would be limited to Iraq.

Obama also said the new approach would likely require additional funding from Congress. "It's going to require some resources, I suspect," beyond the money in existing accounts, Obama said.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have said that the money for the current airstrikes and several hundred security and advisory personnel could be paid for from existing Fiscal 2014 funding but additional funding would be needed for FY2015.

Currently, there are about 860 U.S. troops at the U.S. Embassy in Iraq, the Baghdad airport and Joint Operation Centers in Baghdad and the Kurdish capital of Irbil, according to the Pentagon. Additional troops authorized by Obama will bring that number to about 1,200.

In his NBC interview, Obama said the new strategy he will announce Wednesday "is similar to the kinds of counter-terrorism campaigns that we've been engaging in consistently over the last five, six, seven years. We are going to be part of an international coalition, carrying out airstrikes in support of work on the ground by Iraqi troops."

In line with that approach, the Pentagon announced Sunday that U.S. warplanes had carried out airstrikes in western Iraq on Saturday to protect Iraqi national security forces' control of the Haditha dam in Anbar province.

"We will continue to conduct operations as needed in support of the Iraqi security forces and the Sunni tribes working with those forces securing Haditha dam," Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, said in a statement.

At the White House, National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said that a break in the dam on the Euphrates River could lead to "possible flooding in areas in and around Baghdad International Airport, where hundreds of U.S. personnel reside."

In a statement, U.S. Central Command officials said that a mix of fighters and bombers had carried out four airstrikes around Haditha that destroyed five ISIL Humvees, one ISIL armed vehicle, one ISIL checkpoint and also damaged an ISIL bunker.

Since the air campaign began on Aug. 8, the U.S. has carried out a total of 138 airstrikes in Iraq, CentCom officials said.

In his remarks, Obama said that Hagel and Secretary of State John Kerry were working to assemble a coalition of Arab states willing to take military and diplomatic action against ISIL.

Their initiatives drew an initial positive response from Arab states in the region. At a meeting of Arab foreign ministers in Cairo on Sunday, Arab League chief Nabil al-Arabi said that the rise of ISIL posed an existential challenge to the Iraqi state and "the existence of other states" in the region, Reuters reported.

On CNN's "State of the Union" program, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said the U.S. should also consider help from Iran against ISIL.

The Pentagon has argued against cooperation with Iran, but Feinsten said "Iran has offered to help."

"I, for one, think that's useful," she said.

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.sisk@monster.com.

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