WASHINGTON: The U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday approved President Barack Obama’s plan to train and equip Syrian rebels as part of efforts to fight the Islamic State militant group.
The chamber voted 273-156 to give the president the authority to offer more support for the vetted rebels fighting both the Syrian government and the group.
The measure came as an amendment to a bill that will fund the federal government through mid-December. The Senate is expected to consider it later this week.
Obama issued a statement welcoming the move, saying the training program will be implemented outside of Syria in partnership with regional countries. “There will be no U.S. military personnel in Syria as part of this program,” he said.
He also urged the Senate to pass the bill “without delay.”
The measure enables the Pentagon to vet, train and arm what Washington calls “moderate” Syrian rebels, who will then fight on the ground while U.S. warplanes carry out airstrikes on the Islamic State targets inside Syria, part of a strategy unveiled by Obama on Sept. 10 for degrading and ultimately destroying the radical group running amok both in Syria and Iraq.
The U.S. military has launched air raids on the group’s targets in Iraq since Aug. 8, and stepped up the operation over the weekend by hitting targets near Baghdad, Iraq’s capital.
Rep. Jackie Speier, a Democrat, voted against Obama’s training plan. “We should have our eyes open wide enough to know we are being asked to do something more today than train three to five thousand fighters in the Free Syrian Army,” she said. “We are not facing a limited engagement, but a new war.”
Polls show that the Americans support the airstrikes on the Islamic State both in Iraq and Syria, but they are wary of an open- ended campaign in the region, as Obama said the battle against the group could go beyond his presidency that ends in January 2017.
Secretary of State John Kerry, who just returned form the Middle East and Paris on a trip focusing on building a coalition against the Islamic State, reiterated Wednesday that no American combat troops will join the fighting in the Middle East.
“U.S. ground troops will not be sent into combat in this conflict,” he told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee at a hearing. “Instead, they will support Iraq forces on the ground as they fight for their country.”
Obama also reaffirmed his commitment earlier in the day, a day after the top American military officer made remarks to the contrary.
“I will not commit you, and the rest of our Armed Forces, to fighting another ground war in Iraq,” Obama said at the U.S. Central Command in Tampa, Florida.
Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a Senate hearing on Tuesday that the president would consider sending U.S. military advisers deployed in Iraq into combat “on a case-by-case basis.” PNA/Xinhua