President Barack Obama said he would not flinch from sending US special forces to kill Islamic State leaders, as he called for Congress to authorize military operations that stop short of a full-scale invasion.
Tantamount to a declaration of war, Obama on Wednesday asked lawmakers for formal authority to take the fight to the Islamic State group, beyond their current footholds in Syria and Iraq if necessary.
“Our coalition is on the offensive,” Obama said, adding Islamic State is “on the defensive” and is “going to lose.”
Since August 2014, the US military — along with allies — has been conducting a campaign of air strikes against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.
Obama has promised to back up the strikes with targeted covert ground-based attacks if necessary.
“If we had actionable intelligence about a gathering of ISIL (Islamic State) leaders, and our partners didn’t have the capacity to get them, I would be prepared to order our special forces to take action,” Obama said.
“I will not allow these terrorists to have a safe haven.”
The request signals a ramping up of pressure on Islamic State as the Iraqi government prepares for a major ground offensive, expected within months.
It would also provide a firmer legal basis to prosecute a months-old military campaign and provide political cover at home.
With the death of US hostage Kayla Mueller and the killing of three other US hostages, Obama has been under pressure to re-examine his strategy.
In order to win the backing of the Republican-controlled Congress and overcome jitters within his own Democratic party, Obama placed limits on his power to deploy the military in both form and scope.
The proposed legislation does not authorize “enduring offensive ground combat operations,” according to a draft sent to Congress.
The authorization would also “terminate three years after the date of the enactment of this joint resolution, unless reauthorized.”
Obama will also have to report to Congress every six months.