President Obama Announces U.S. Intent and Strategy to Defeat the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL)

“If you threaten America, you will find no safe haven.” 

On September 10, 2014, President Barack Obama delivered a speech to the American Public declaring the intent of the United States government to respond strongly to the emergence of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, ISIS, the Caliphate, or the Islamic State). The video of the President’s speech is available here, and the transcript of his speech is available here.

President Obama detailed the threat ISIL poses to “the people of Iraq and Syria, and the broader Middle East — including American citizens, personnel and facilities.  If left unchecked, these terrorists could pose a growing threat beyond that region, including to the United States.” ISIL has executed prisoners and children, enslaved women, and threatened religious minorities with genocide. Two American lives have been taken already by ISIL, Jim Foley and Steven Sotloff. The President stipulated that further U.S. action was dependent on the “Iraqis forming an inclusive government, which they have now done in recent days.” Because the Iraqis formed this new government, President Obama could then come forward and announce an American coalition action in Iraq against ISIL. In Iraq, “our objective is clear: We will degrade, and ultimately destroy, ISIL through a comprehensive and sustained counterterrorism strategy.

This strategy has four main parts:

  1. A Systematic campaign of airstrikes against ISIL
  2. Increased support to forces fighting ISIL on the ground
  3. Drawing on our substantial counterterrorism capabilities to prevent ISIL attacks
  4. Providing humanitarian assistance to innocent civilians displaced by ISIL

This strategy “harnesses all elements of national power and features the following core elements: [1] Supporting Effective Governance in Iraq; [2] Denying ISIL Safe Haven; [3] Building Partner Capacity.”  Though the declared U.S. Strategy is complete and detailed, there are many challenges facing the U.S. in its upcoming campaign: poor intelligence collection in the area; continued ISIL financing through various channels; foreign fighter support for ISIL; and coalition willingness to participate. On this last challenge, Secretary of State John Kerry will travel to Middle Eastern and Central Asian nations to raise support for the coalition. 

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