Obama Emphasizes Coalition In Comments On Syrian Strikes
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
The U.S. escalated its fight against Islamic militant groups last night. Together with five Arabic nation allies, U.S. warplanes hit targets inside Syria for the first time. So far, the U.S. air campaign against ISIS has been limited to Iraq. President Obama spoke about the airstrikes this morning moments before he left for New York where the United Nations General Assembly will be meeting. NPR's Tamara Keith is at the White House and joins us now. Hey there, Tamara.
TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Hey, Audie.
CORNISH: So the president made his remarks from the White House lawn with the Marine One helicopter behind him. What did he say before they took off?
KEITH: And they do like having that Marine One behind him showing American military dominance and power. He essentially put his stamp on what military officials and U.S. central command announced overnight, the launching of airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Syria. And he said that this was different than in Iraq where - actually this was different than Iraq where the country's leaders requested U.S. action.
In this case, the U.S. did give Syria a heads up, but they did not cooperate with Syria. It was a warning, it was not to seek approval. And that has to be one of the reasons that President Obama put such a strong emphasis on the international coalition that joined the effort.
And Pentagon officials have just recently said that what happened last night was only just the beginning. Separately, President Obama announced airstrikes that only the U.S. conducted against what's called the Khorasan Group. It's an al-Qaida group operating out of Syria. And the military said it was, quote, "an action to disrupt an eminent attack against U.S. or Western interests." The coalition was not part of that. The White House says that that group has been plotting an attack for months.
CORNISH: Tell us more about the nature of this coalition - I mean, the countries involved or their role.
KEITH: Yeah, so there are about 40 countries more broadly involved in the larger effort to combat ISIS, but the president really highlighted the five Sunni Arab states that were involved in the airstrikes last night - Bahrain, Jordan, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Qatar.
(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: America's proud to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with these nations on behalf of our common security. The strength of this coalition makes it clear to the world that this is not America's fight alone, above all the people and governments of the Middle East are rejecting ISIL and standing up for the peace and security that the people, the region and the world deserve.
KEITH: Having these Sunni Arab nations working with the U.S. is really important to the Obama administration. And officials keep coming back to this coalition as a reason that this is different from the 2003 Iraq invasion, though of course back then there was also the so-called coalition of the willing. The five countries were not involved in the additional airstrikes against the Khorasan Group.
CORNISH: Now, Tamara, I want to move on to the U.N. The focus is - today is going to be climate issues, but tomorrow attention will return to the fight against Islamic extremist groups. What is the president expected to say?
KEITH: He's expected to talk about it. Actually the White House is now saying that this afternoon the president is likely to drop in on a meeting with the Arab nations that participated in last night's airstrikes. And then outside of the General Assembly session, he's actually going to chair the Security Council, the U.N. Security Council meeting tomorrow afternoon, which is a rare thing for a head-of-state to do. And there they'll be trying to pass - and the White House expects it will pass - a resolution on foreign fighters. These are the people who have left western countries and gone to Syria to fight alongside ISIS. The White House says that about a hundred foreign fighters from the U.S. have gone to Syria, and there are many more from Europe.
CORNISH: Finally, we mentioned the White House lawn. Did you actually notice any signs of heightened security? Obviously there are still a lot of questions out there about the security breach last Friday when a man jumped the fence and entered the front door.
KEITH: And literally entered the front door. Yes, as we came in today, there was a whole new layer of fence actually. It's a short fence, more like a hurdle, but a second layer of fence around the White House creating just another barrier before people can get it. Now, that fence has sometimes appeared in the past when world events or protests warranted it, but this time it looks as though that was a response to the fence jumper.
CORNISH: That's NPR's Tamara Keith live at the White House. Tamara, thank you.
KEITH: You're welcome.
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