Liz Levey, ‘Doah Staff Writer
October 1, 2014
Congressional leaders from both parties on Thursday, Sept. 18 backed President Barack Obama’s request to train and equip Syrian rebels to fight Islamic State militants. The vote passed the Senate with a 78-22 in a rare show of bipartisanship.
Obama thanked Congress for the speed in which it acted to back the plan, which he announced on Sept. 10, and said the strong bipartisan support showed Americans were united in the fight against Islamic State. “When you harm our citizens, when you threaten the United States, when you threaten our allies, it doesn’t divide us, it unites us,” he said at the White House after the vote.
Under the amendment from House Armed Services Chairman Buck McKeon (R., Calif.), the authority would expire when the spending bill’s funding ends on Dec. 11 or when Congress passes a new defense-policy bill, where the issue is expected to be addressed going forward. The December deadline for the training program has caused concern among some Democrats. Others in the party worry the overall plan could entangle the U.S. in another long-term conflict in the Middle East. While some Democrats in both chambers are likely to oppose the measure, others said they plan to try to address those concerns later this year.
Congressional leaders have said they may bring up a broader use-of-force authorization after November’s midterm elections to address President Obama’s longer-term strategy for combating Islamic State, often referred to as ISIS or ISIL.
Democrats largely consider the training of Syrian rebels to be “the best alternative among a lot of bad choices.” Some House Republicans, meanwhile, expressed concerns that President Obama’s proposal isn’t forceful enough to eliminate the threat posed by the Islamic State extremists.
The so-called Islamic State continues to spread its radical Islamist rule in Syria and Iraq and this past week they captured 16 predominantly Kurdish villages in northern Syria. The group published a video in which British hostage John Cantlie criticizes the American and British governments for their failure to negotiate for the hostages as other governments have done. He goes on to make a number of other propaganda points and promises a series of similar video presentations.
U.S. lawmakers are debating the best way to stop ISIS, with Secretary of State John Kerry testifying before the House Foreign Affairs Committee. He said that while Syria had removed most of its chemical weaponry, President Bashar al-Assad continues to use chlorine weapons and is “in violation” of a treaty against the use of such weapons. Which sides with others are worried about that the fighters that we train will be focused on what really motivates them, which is removing (Syrian President Bashar al-) Assad, not fighting ISIS. The rebels have been fighting a three-year civil war against Assad, who has held on to power despite the rise of the Islamic State group and a covert U.S. effort backing the moderate fighters.