WASHINGTON — The United States has begun to mobilize a broad coalition of allies behind potential military action in Syria and is moving toward expanded airstrikes in northern Iraq, administration officials said Tuesday.
President Barack Obama, the officials said, was broadening his campaign against the Sunni militants of the Islamic State group and nearing a decision to authorize airstrikes and airdrops of food and water around the northern Iraqi town of Amerli, home to members of Iraq’s Turkmen minority. The town of 12,000 has been under siege for more than two months by the militants.
“Rooting out a cancer like ISIL won’t be easy, and it won’t be quick,” Mr. Obama said in a speech Tuesday to the American Legion in Charlotte, N.C., using an alternative name for the group. He said the U.S. was building a coalition to “take the fight to these barbaric terrorists,” and the militants would be “no match” for a united international community.
Administration officials characterized the dangers facing the Turkmen, Shiite Muslims who are considered infidels by the Islamic State, as similar to the threat faced by thousands of Yazidis, who were driven to Mount Sinjar in Iraq after attacks by the militants. The United Nations special representative for Iraq, Nickolay Mladenov, said in a statement three days ago that the situation in Amerli “demands immediate action to prevent the possible massacre of its citizens.”
As Mr. Obama considered new strikes, the White House began its diplomatic campaign to enlist allies and neighbors in the region to increase their support for Syria’s moderate opposition and, in some cases, to provide support for possible U.S. military operations. The countries likely to be enlisted include Australia, Britain, Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates, officials said.
The officials said they expected that Britain and Australia would be willing to join the U.S. in an air campaign. The officials said they also want help from Turkey, which has military bases that could be used to support an effort in Syria.
Turkey is a transit route for foreign fighters, including those from the United States and Europe who have traveled to Syria to join the Islamic State. Administration officials said they are now asking officials in Ankara to help tighten the border. The administration is also seeking intelligence and surveillance help from Jordan as well as financial help from Saudi Arabia, which bankrolls groups in Syria that are fighting President Bashar Assad.
On Monday, the Pentagon began surveillance flights over Syria in an effort to collect information on possible Islamic State targets as a precursor to airstrikes, a senior official said.
Although U.S. allies in the region have plenty of reasons to support an intensified effort against the Islamic State, analysts said, the United States will have to navigate tensions among them. “One of the problems is that different countries have different clients among the fighting groups in Syria,” said Robert S. Ford, a former U.S. ambassador to Syria. “To get them all to work together, the best thing would be for them to pick one client and funnel all the funds through that client. You’ve got to pick one command structure.”
But persuading countries to help the United States in a military campaign in Syria will require more effort, administration officials said. Turkey, for example, is amid a political transition, with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan ascending to the presidency. His likely successor as prime minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, has been deeply immersed in Syria as foreign minister. The White House, meanwhile, has been unable to win Senate confirmation of a new ambassador to Turkey, John Bass, leaving the post vacant at a critical time.
Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf emirates are important as a source of funding for the rebels, but there are strains among them. Qatar, for example, helped negotiate the release of U.S. hostage Peter Theo Curtis, who was being held by a less extreme militant group, the Nusra Front, but returned home to the United States on Tuesday night. But Saudi Arabia does not talk to the Nusra Front, and the Obama administration has sought to navigate between the feuding Gulf nations.
Enlisting the Sunni neighbors of Syria is crucial, experts said, because airstrikes alone are not going to be sufficient to push back the Islamic State.syria - United States - North America - United States military - United States government - Middle East - Europe - Barack Obama - Western Europe - United States Congress - District of Columbia - Qatar - Chuck Hagel - U.S. Department of Defense - Iraq - United States Senate - Saudi Arabia - United Arab Emirates - Bashar Assad - Recep Tayyip Erdogan - Turkey - Turkey government - Iraq government - Bob Corker - Tim Kaine - Ahmet Davutoglu - John Kirby - Peter Theo Curtis