Washington: The US House of Representatives, Wednesday, approved a plan to train and equip moderate Syrian rebels to take on the Islamic State even as President Barack Obama warned the jihadists that they have no place to hide.
The plan to arm vetted Syrian rebels was approved by the House through a vote that went 273 to 156 in favour of the move. Obama hailed it as "an important step forward."
Importantly, Saudi Arabia has agreed to host a US mission that will train the rebels.
Speaking at the MacDill Air Force Basein Florida, the headquarters of US Central Command, which oversees military action in the Middle East, Obama reiterated his position against direct intervention by US troops on the ground but assured all help in helping eliminate the IS.
Obama met military commanders to discuss how to defeat the so-called "Islamic State" group -- a powerful extremist organization -- while keeping America out of another protracted conflict in the Middle East.
The Islamic State with an estimated army of 20,000 to 31,000 fighters has been grabbing vast areas of Iraq and Syria in a offensive that has seen beheadings and forced religious conversions.
Two American reporters and a Briton were executed on camera by a masked IS militant, provoking revulsion and condemnation.
Obama, who last week vowed to "degrade and ultimately destroy" the IS group, stood firm on his pledge that a US combat mission was not in the cards -- but insisted the jihadists would be defeated.
"The American forces that have been deployed to Iraq do not and will not have a combat mission," Obama stressed.
His comments came after America`s top officer General Martin Dempsey suggested military advisors might provide counsel to Iraqi troops in "close combat," sparking hand-wringing in Washington about "mission creep."
"Our reach is long. If you threaten America, you will find no safe haven. We will find you eventually," Obama said.
Last week he ordered expanded air strikes against the IS organization in Iraq and said the US was prepared to launch air raids on the militants in neighboring Syria.
He again emphasized the broad-based nature of the US-led coalition to defeat the jihadists, and noted that Saudi Arabia had agreed to host a US mission for training moderate Syrian rebels.
Some 40 countries are backing the coalition to defeat IS, but there was a prominent dissenting voice in the form of Iran, with President Hassan Rouhani criticizing Washington`s refusal to send in ground troops.I
Lawmakers backed the president despite the misgivings of war-weary Democrats that the move could open the door to full-blown American intervention and concern from conservatives that the plan falls short of what is needed.
The measure was included as an amendment to a stop-gap federal spending measure which also easily passed the Republican-dominated House.
The overall bill now shifts to the Senate, where leaders are confident it will pass on Thursday and head to the president for his signature.
Expanded air strikes are already turning up the heat on Islamic State fighters, who have declared a "caliphate" straddling Iraq and Syria and claimed leadership of a global anti-Western jihad.
With agency inputs