Obama told reporters Thursday that ISIL is a terrorist group that could launch attacks against the United States if they gain a safe haven in Iraq. He also said it is in the national security interests of the United States to avoid a broader civil war in Iraq and the region.
He said he is prepared to create joint operation centers with the Iraqis in Baghdad and northern Iraq, and plans to work with Congress to fund additional equipment for Iraq. But while he said he plans to "consult closely with Congress," he did not say he would seek permission to act.
"Because of our increased intelligence resources, we're developing more information about potential targets associated with ISIL and going forward, we will be prepared to take targeted and precise military action if and when we determine that the situation on the ground requires it," Obama said. "If we do, I will consult closely with Congress and leaders in Iraq and in the region. I want to emphasize though that the best and most effective response to a threat like ISIL will ultimately involve partnerships where local forces like Iraqis take the lead."
The president did not cite what authority he is using to take military action, although authorizations to use military force passed in 2001 and 2002 never expired, and give the president broad leeway .
Lawmakers in both parties — from Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., to Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., have said Congress should debate what to do.
Lee has proposed an amendment that would nix the president's ability to fund combat operations in Iraq.
Obama spent much of his statement talking about the need for Iraqi's leaders to form a coalition, non-sectarian government, and said Iran could be helpful if it echoes that call.
On a follow-on conference call with senior administration officials, they said that president has not yet given the order to attack ISIL, but noted the United States has many aircraft and ships in the region.
Attacks could conceivably cross into Syria, where ISIL also operates. A senior administration official, asked if that was a possibility, said the administration was not restricted to a particular geographic space, noting that the U.S. had taken action against militants in Yemen, Somalia and Libya in the past.
Special operators will go to Iraq initially in small teams to assess the situation, to be followed by more later to set up the joint operations centers. One official noted that the United States has special operators in some 70 countries around the world.
Obama, however, made clear he wants to avoid "mission creep" in Iraq and continued to rule out ground combat by U.S. forces.
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