Obama, in Speech, to Lay Out Plan for Fighting Islamic State

WASHINGTON (Los Angeles Times/MCT) -

President Barack Obama is planning a speech Wednesday to outline a broader offensive against Islamic militants in the Middle East, a plan welcomed by a number of congressional leaders who have come to view the terrorist group as increasingly menacing to the United States.

Foreshadowing his remarks in an interview aired Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Obama said that it was time for the U.S. to “start going on some offense” to beat back Islamic State fighters.

“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 the terrorists, he said. “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.”

Although Obama said there would be a “military element” to the strategy, he added that “this is not going to be an announcement about U.S. ground troops.”

“This is not the equivalent of the Iraq war,” he said. “What this is, is similar to the kinds of counter-terrorism campaigns that we’ve been engaging in consistently over the last five, six, seven years.”

Obama has been criticized for not setting a clear strategy on how to deal with the Islamic State, reflecting his reluctance to commit American forces to another war in Iraq. But after the the group’s attack on minority Yazidis in Iraq and the beheading of two American journalists, there have been growing calls from Congress and others for more aggressive action.

Obama’s planned speech suggests that he was preparing a new phase in U.S. military action and would be seeking to rally the American public — and Congress — behind the broader mission.

“I’m preparing the country to make sure that we deal with a threat,” Obama said.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said in a statement Saturday that the Islamic State threat was “real and it’s growing.” He urged Obama to “exercise some leadership” and to engage Congress with “a strategic plan.”

Whether Congress would vote on Obama’s plan is uncertain. Congressional leaders have said they want Congress to be consulted, but they have not committed to a vote. And though some members of Congress have said they believe that they should go on record concerning military action, others are reluctant to do so with an election coming in less than two months.

Meanwhile, the head of the Arab League urged its members Sunday to confront Islamic State terrorists “militarily and politically,” issuing an apparent call to arms. Backing from the 22-country Arab League could provide crucial support across the Middle East for Obama’s effort to assemble an international coalition against the Islamic State, the marauding group that has conquered a swath of Iraq and Syria and committed beheadings and mass killings to sow terror.