President Barack Obama formally asked Congress to authorize military action against Islamic State, saying the extremist group has committed “despicable acts of violence” and would threaten the U.S. if not confronted.
A three-page resolution sent by the White House to Congress Wednesday limits the authority to three years and would prohibit “enduring offensive ground combat operations.”
In a letter accompanying the text, Obama tells lawmakers that the authorization would provide flexibility to conduct combat ground operations in limited circumstances, such as the rescue of personnel or use of special operations forces to target Islamic State leadership.
The resolution “would not authorize long-term, large-scale ground combat operations like those our Nation conducted in Iraq and Afghanistan,” Obama said. “Local forces, rather than U.S. military forces, should be deployed to conduct such operations.”
Obama is scheduled to deliver a statement to the public from the White House at 3:30 p.m. Washington time.
The resolution cites Islamic State’s professed intention to seize more territory, its mass executions of Muslims and threatened genocide against religious and ethnic minorities.
It also blames the group for the deaths of five Americans it held hostage, including aid worker Kayla Mueller, whose death was confirmed by the U.S. Tuesday.
“If left unchecked, ISIL will pose a threat beyond the Middle East, including to the United States homeland,” Obama said in the letter to Congress.
Language on ground forces is at the center of what may become the most contentious congressional debate in years on the U.S. role in the Middle East.
Some of Obama’s fellow Democrats have expressed skepticism about the use of combat forces, saying the Obama administration is going too far in seeking the right to send ground troops on certain missions.
Maryland Representative Chris Van Hollen, the top Democrat on the House Budget Committee, said after the draft was released that he has “serious concerns” about the proposal.
“First, it provides overly broad, fresh authority for the deployment of U.S. ground forces in combat operations in Iraq, Syria, and any other countries in which ISIL or its affiliates may be operating,” he said. “Second, it leaves in place indefinitely the blank check authority granted to the Executive in the 2001 AUMF.”
Some Republicans, including Arizona Senator John McCain, said they wanted a resolution that would give the president broad authority to commit troops to the fight if necessary.
With Republican support, Obama may still be able to win passage of the authorization. White House aides were on Capitol Hill Tuesday trying to rally Democratic support. The effort wasn’t entirely successful and even Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, suggested the White House still had work to do.
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