House Speaker John Boehner said Thursday that many Republican lawmakers doubt that President Barack Obama's plan to destroy the Islamic State (ISIS) is strong enough to accomplish that mission.
"I'm not sure that we're doing all that we can do to defeat this terrorist threat," Boehner told reporters, adding that he heard many concerns from Republicans at a meeting earlier Thursday.
"And if our goal is to eliminate ISIL, there's a lot of doubt whether the plan that was outlined by the president last night is enough to accomplish that mission," Boehner added, using another name for the group formerly known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
The Ohio Republican's comments came after Obama declared on Wednesday that the United States would "degrade and ultimately destroy" the Islamic State in a plan that would rely heavily on expanded airstrikes in Iraq, but would not put combat troops on the ground in either Baghdad or Syria.
Obama did say that he would expand the airstrikes that began in August into Syria for the first time — and he said he would send 475 U.S. soldiers into Iraq to aid the country's outmatched security forces.
The president also called on Congress to authorize a program to train and arm rebels in Syria who are fighting both the Islamic State and Syrian President Bashar Assad.
"Our objective is clear: We will degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL through a comprehensive and sustained counterterrorism strategy," Obama said in his prime-time speech.
The speech was widely slammed
by Republicans for lacking details on how to destroy ISIS, which beheaded U.S. journalists James Foley, 40, and Steven Sotloff, 31, and posted their executions on the Internet.
Boehner said Thursday that he supported Obama's request for authority to arm and train the moderate Syrian rebels, and believes that they are "well-vetted" by U.S. intelligence services.
However, the speaker questioned the wisdom of ruling out the use of ground troops in the campaign, but said that was Obama's decision as commander in chief.
"An F-16 [warplane] is not a strategy," Boehner said. "And airstrikes alone will not accomplish what we're trying to accomplish.
"The president's made clear that he doesn't want boots on the ground. Well, somebody's boots have to be on the ground," he said, adding that this was a reason to support Syrian rebels to fight the Islamic State.
No decision has been made on whether the authority to arm the Syrian groups would be attached to a larger government funding measure or considered in a separate vote, Boehner said. He added that discussions about the legislation would continue over the weekend.
Other Republicans described various problems with Obama's strategy.
Louisiana Rep. John Fleming said that House GOP members were divided into two camps, characterizing one side this way: "This is not the president we choose, but it's the only president that we have — and we just have to go along with the one that we have and hope that we can hold him accountable for doing the right thing."
Fleming said the other group, which includes himself, believes it is an "insane strategy to go out there and depend on people that are proven undependable" to combat the militants, referring to the moderate Syrian rebels.
He said he prefers "all-out war" waged by U.S. forces.
In a Newsmax interview after Obama's speech, New York Rep. Peter King said the entire issue of battling ISIS goes against Obama's fundamental position against involving the United States in another foreign civil war.
"When it comes to foreign policy, the president is a very reluctant warrior," King said. "It goes against everything he's stood for. He ran on the premise that he was going to withdraw from Iraq and get us out of Afghanistan.
"For the president, what he is doing is counter to all of his body language ever since 2004, where he was opposed to the war in Iraq and was going to end the war in Afghanistan.
"There was an inherent belief that the president had that it was American policy that was a main cause of the wars in the Middle East — and that once we withdrew, there would be some reciprocal moves by the jihadists," King said.
"But instead, as we left, we left a vacuum — and that vacuum has been filled by ISIS.
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.
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