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Extremists' use of Syria as a sanctuary is at the heart of Obama's counterterror dilemma

  • Obama-NSA-Ben-Rhodes

    Deputy National Security Adviser for Strategic Communications and Speechwriting Ben Rhodes speaks to reporters during a press briefing Friday in Edgartown, Mass., on the island of Martha's Vineyard.

    <ASSOCIATED PRESS

  • US-Iraq-12

    FILE - This Aug. 20, 2014 file photo shows Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey speaking at Madison Square Garden in New York. During a Pentagon briefing Thursday, Dempsey said it's possible to contain the Islamic State militants, but it can't be done permanently without going after the group in Syria. Speaking to reporters with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, Dempsey said he wasn't predicting U.S. airstrikes in Syria, but said the problem must be addressed diplomatically, politically and militarily by America and its regional partners. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens, File)

    <ASSOCIATED PRESS

Obama-NSA-Ben-Rhodes

Deputy National Security Adviser for Strategic Communications and Speechwriting Ben Rhodes speaks to reporters during a press briefing Friday in Edgartown, Mass., on the island of Martha's Vineyard.

ASSOCIATED PRESS Enlarge

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama will consider airstrikes in Syria if needed in the battle against the Islamic State terrorists who beheaded an American journalist.

“Any strategy to deal with the ISIL organization has to deal with both sides of the border in Iraq and Syria,” Obama’s deputy national security adviser, Ben Rhodes, told reporters today. While Obama hasn’t approved such a strike yet, “we’re not going to be restricted by borders,” he said.

The Islamic State, also known by acronyms such as ISIL, released a video on Aug. 19 of journalist James Foley’s beheading, and declared in an Internet posting that he was executed because of U.S. airstrikes against the group in Iraq that began earlier this month. It wasn’t clear when Foley was killed. U.S. officials believe he was killed in Syria.

Obama authorized a rescue mission of Foley and other Americans held hostage in Syria. The attempt early this summer failed when U.S. forces found the hostages had been moved. The U.S., as is its policy, refused to pay captors a ransom demand of $133 million.

Foley’s beheading, Rhodes said today, was a “terrorist attack” against America.

“He’s an American and we see that as an attack on our country when one of our own is killed like that,” said Rhodes, who spoke to reporters on Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, where Obama is on vacation.

Dempsey’s Comments

Thursday, U.S. Army General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Islamic State couldn’t be defeated unless the U.S. and international partners take on the militants in Syria as well as Iraq.

Rhodes declined to say whether Obama was seeking congressional authorization for additional actions in Syria. The strikes in Iraq were at the invitation of that government. The president is unlikely to get a similar invitation from Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who Obama has called on to step down and threatened with airstrikes.

“As we’ve done against al-Qaeda around the world, we’ll take whatever action is necessary to protect our people,” Rhodes said.

U.S. military forces carried out three airstrikes on Islamic terrorists today in the vicinity of Iraq’s Mosul Dam, the U.S. Central Command in Tampa, Florida, said in a statement. There have been 93 airstrikes since Aug. 8.

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