Senior administration officials would not rule out military action in Syria to combat the extremist Islamic group driving the ongoing crisis in Iraq when asked about such action in a conference call with reporters Thursday.
The officials were asked specifically about military strikes in Syria being part of any potential action against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, an offshoot of al-Qaeda in Iraq, which has made gains in northern Iraq in recent days and has been advancing toward the capital Baghdad.
The officials stressed President Barack Obama has not authorized any military action at this time, but, if strikes were undertaken, the officials would not say that such action would be confined to Iraq or preclude strikes in Syria if they were deemed necessary for U.S. national security.
“The president is focused on a number of potential contingencies that may demand U.S. direct military action. One of those is the threat from ISIL and the threat that that could pose not simply to Iraqi stability but to U.S. personnel and to U.S. interests more broadly,” one official said.
“In that respect, we don’t restrict potential U.S. action to a specific geographic space,” the official continued. “The president has made clear time and again that we will take action as necessary … if it’s necessary to defend the United States against an imminent threat.”
Earlier in the call, a second administration official told reporters that U.S. intelligence indicated that the suicide bombers in roughly 50 attacks across Iraq leading up to the April 30 elections had crossed into Iraq from Syria. The official also said ISIL’s goal is to “carve out a state of control” along the Iraq-Syria border.
President Obama said prior to the call that U.S. military assets had been positioned for “targeted and precise military action” if deemed necessary. Those assets include an aircraft carrier and other vessels moving into the Persian Gulf, the officials said.
“Clearly, we’re focused on Iraq,” the first official said while responding to the question about Syria. “But the group ISIL operates broadly, and we would not restrict our ability to take action that is necessary to protect the United States.”