U.S. lawmakers are set Thursday to give their full backing to a plan to arm and train select Syrian rebels who are trying to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad and defeat fighters from the Islamic State.
The Republican-controlled House of Representatives on Wednesday approved the legislation, 273 to 156.
The Senate, controlled by the President Barack Obama’s Democratic Party, is expected to vote Thursday on a government spending bill and a measure to authorize the training of Syrian rebels. Analysts said senators are eager to pass both measures, so lawmakers can return to their home districts to campaign for the November elections.
The expected approval comes despite concerns by some Democrats that the U.S. is involving itself in another Middle East war and some Republicans who say the effort will not do enough to defeat the Islamist group.
On Wednesday, more than 90 House members came to the floor during six hours of spirited debate over two days on whether to comply with the president’s request.
Democratic and Republican leaders supported the amendment, put forward by House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon.
There was a lot of opposition from rank-and-file members of both parties, however, as Republican Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy made clear: “I know that many of us in this chamber from both sides of the aisle believe that the president’s strategy should do more to eradicate those extremists from the earth. But despite those reservations, reservations that I share, we must support this amendment and take this first step.”
Win the war on terrorism
McCarthy called on Obama to stop trying to end the war on terrorism, and to start trying to win the war on terrorism. Some Republicans said they could not vote for the measure because the president is not doing enough to confront the serious national security threat posed by the Islamic State.
The measure authorizes the Pentagon to allocate existing funds to arm and train appropriately vetted rebels. Democratic Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez said there is too much that the U.S. does not know about Syrian rebels, including which ones are moderate.
Obama praised the House vote, saying arming and training the rebels is a key part of his comprehensive plan to defeat the extremists, who control large parts of Iraq and Syria.
Shortly before the House vote, Secretary of State John Kerry told skeptical members of a Senate committee that Syrian moderates will benefit from a robust international air campaign targeting Islamic State. He predicted that battlefield successes will attract more moderate fighters.
Kerry said American troops that have been sent to Iraq do not and will not have a combat mission in Iraq. He told the senators the soldiers’ mission is training and supporting Iraqi forces on the ground, enabling the Iraqis to do what they must do.
Kerry said there is nothing to negotiate with the Islamic State group, calling its members cold-blooded killers from the stone age making a mockery of a peaceful religion.
No clear strategy
Some lawmakers said the Obama administration still has not clearly spelled out its strategy for combating Islamic State militants, and that there is no clear exit strategy.
Kerry disputed that, saying the strategy is clear and well thought out. He said about 50 countries already are doing something in Iraq while other foreign leaders are asking how they can help.
The United States already has launched more than 170 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Iraq. Kerry said these strikes have been extremely effective in helping Iraqi forces push back the militants.
Material for this report came from AP and AFP.