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Hours after plunging the United States into new warfare in the heart of the Middle East, President Obama insisted Tuesday that international support proved that “this is not America’s fight alone.”
Obama, speaking on the South Lawn of the White House, vowed to “take the fight” to the Islamic State and other extremists groups but braced Americans for a long and difficult conflict.
“The overall effort will take time. There will be challenges ahead, but we’re going to do what’s necessary to take the fight to this terrorist group, for the security of the country and the region and for the entire world,” he said.
The president’s remarks were notable in part for their lack of detail and their brevity — he spoke for barely three minutes, with his Marine One helicopter visible over his shoulder, and gave no details about whether the overnight operations were successful or what the next military step might be.
Instead, Obama seemed most eager to claim widespread support for America’s latest military action in the Middle East amid unease at home and abroad over the escalating conflict in Iraq and Syria.
The president highlighted support from Bahrain, Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates for the airstrikes in Syria overnight, referring to those Sunni nations as a “broad coalition.”
“America is proud to stand shoulder to shoulder with these nations on behalf of our common security,” he said, stressing that “the strength of this coalition makes it clear to the world that this is not America’s fight alone.”
He offered no details about what military role those countries were playing.
“I’ve spoken to leaders in Congress, and I’m pleased that there is bipartisan support for the actions that we’re taking,” the president said. “America’s always stronger when we stand united, and that unity sends a powerful message to the world that we will do what’s necessary to defend our country.”
Obama said “bipartisan majorities in Congress” backed his plan to arm and train Syrian rebels belonging to factions less extreme than Islamic State (also known as ISIS, or ISIL) and that “over 40 nations have offered to help” the campaign against the group.
Obama spoke just before departing from the White House for New York City, where he was to take his case for global action against IS to the United Nations General Assembly. The president planned to press diplomats at the annual gathering to back a resolution requiring all nations to take steps to starve IS and other extremist groups of cash, weapons and recruits.
Obama also touched on overnight U.S strikes on the Khorasan group, describing it as a network of “seasoned al-Qaida operatives” who were “plotting against the United States and our allies.”
“It must be clear to anyone who would plot against America and try to do Americans harm that we will not tolerate safe havens for terrorists who threaten our people,” he said.
Earlier, the Pentagon said that the United States was “still assessing the effectiveness” of the overnight airstrikes in Syria, “but we believe that we hit what we were aiming at.”
"We were aiming at their ability to command and control and lead their forces, to resupply, to train, so we hit depots, we hit training facilities, we actually hit some vehicles" as well as “headquarters-element type buildings,” a Pentagon spokesman, Rear Admiral John Kirby, told MSNBC.
Neither Kirby nor Obama spelled out the military role that the United States' Arab partners played in the overnight onslaught.
Kirby also fleshed out the Pentagon’s description of strikes on the Khorasan group, near the city of Aleppo.
“We had information, good information, that this group was in the final stages of planning an attack — an imminent attack — either against targets in Europe or the U.S. homeland,” Kirby told MSNBC. “Based on that information ... we took targeted action against them last night."
Details of the “imminent” plot were not immediately available, and it was unclear why the United States had previously held off on attacking the group. Earlier this month, U.S. officials sounded the alarm about the Khorasan group, suggesting that it aimed to enlist Westerners, including Americans, who have traveled to Syria to battle forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad.