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Barack Obama to lay out Islamic State plan

US president Barack Obama is to begin laying out a strategy to defeat Islamic State militants in the Middle East this week.

He will meet congressional leaders on Tuesday and give a speech to the American people on Wednesday, the eve of the 13th anniversary of the deadliest terrorist attack on US soil.

During an interview on NBC television's Meet The Press, Mr Obama said: "I just want the American people to understand the nature of the threat and how we're going to deal with it and to have confidence that we'll be able to deal with it."

The interview was conducted yesterday at the White House, shortly after the president's return from a Nato summit in Wales where the Islamic State threat was a key topic of discussion.

Mr Obama's emerging strategy depends on the formation of a new government in Iraq, as well as cooperation and contributions from regional partners, including Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Turkey. He said he expected the new Iraqi government to be formed this week.

"What I want people to understand ... is that over the course of months, we are going to be able to not just blunt the momentum of ISIL," he said, using an alternate name for the group.

"We are going to systematically degrade their capabilities. We're going to shrink the territory that they control. And ultimately we're going to defeat them."

He restated his opposition to sending US ground troops to engage in direct combat with the militants, who have laid claim to large areas of territory in Iraq, targeted religious and ethnic minority groups, and threatened US personnel and interests in the region.

The US military has conducted more than 130 airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Iraq in the past month. In retaliation, the group recently beheaded two American journalists it had been holding hostage in Syria, where the organisation also operates.

Lawmakers have pressed Mr Obama to expand the airstrikes into Syria. He has resisted so far, but said he has asked his military advisers for options for pursuing the group there.

In the interview, he said the US would not go after the Islamic State group alone, but operate as part of an international coalition and continue airstrikes to support ground efforts that would be carried out by Iraqi and Kurdish troops.

At the Nato summit, the US and nine allies agreed to take on the militants because of the threat they pose to member countries.

Republican Rep Mike Rogers, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said: "Clearly, he's put together a coalition of the willing - we have heard that before - to tackle this problem. That's good."

At the same time, the president "needs to engage Congress, the American people, on what exactly we're going to do here," he said.

Mr Obama should make the case on why the extremists are a threat to the US and lay out the strategy, Mr Rogers said. But he said: "We need to have an endgame."

Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein wants to hear what the diplomatic and military parts of the plan are.

"Time's a wasting, because we have now said that we're going to go on the offensive. And it's time for America to project power and strength," said Ms Feinstein, who heads the Senate Intelligence Committee and joined Mr Rogers on CNN's State Of The Union.

The head of the Arab League, Nabil Elaraby, appealed to its member states to confront "militarily and politically" the Islamic State insurgents. Support from the Arab League could provide Mr Obama with the international coalition he hoped to create.

Mr Elaraby said what is needed from Arab countries is a "clear and firm decision for a comprehensive confrontation" to what he called "cancerous and terrorist" groups.

Mr Obama said his administration has seen no intelligence that suggests an immediate threat to the US from the Islamic State group.

But he said the militants can become a serious threat to the homeland if they are allowed to control even more territory and amass more financial and other resources, including foreign fighters.


From Belfast Telegraph