- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 26, 2014

As the U.S. began surveillance flights as a prelude to possible airstrikes in Syria against Islamist militants, President Obama said Tuesday he will take military action wherever necessary to protect Americans.

“We’ll continue to take direct action where needed to protect our people and to defend our homeland,” Mr. Obama told veterans at the annual American Legion convention in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Department of Defense officials told The Associated Press that surveillance flights have begun in Syria, ordered by Mr. Obama despite warnings from Damascus that the Syrian government would consider airstrikes without its consent an act of “aggression.” Mr. Obama’s advisers have said the U.S. will target militants of the Islamic State, which has seized territory in Iraq and Syria regardless of borders.

Mr. Obama still hasn’t decided whether to expand the U.S. fight against the militant group in Iraq into neighboring Syria, White House press secretary Josh Earnest said Tuesday. He wouldn’t comment on surveillance missions.

The Pentagon also said that U.S. warplanes attacked two armed vehicles of the terrorist group Tuesday near Irbil, Iraq. That brought to 98 the total number of airstrikes carried out by the U.S. since the start of operations in Iraq on Aug. 8.

In his remarks to the veterans group, the president sounded a cautious note about expanding military action against the Islamic State.

“We have to use our power wisely,” Mr. Obama said. “History teaches about the dangers of overreaching. And rooting out a cancer like [the Islamic State] won’t be easy, and it won’t be quick. Our military action in Iraq has to be part of a broader strategy to protect our people and support our partners to take the fight to” the Islamic State.

And in light of the terrorist group’s execution last week of journalist James Foley, Mr. Obama appeared to be conflicted about whether the U.S. is engaged in a war or a criminal justice action against the Islamic State.

“Our message to anyone who harms our people is simple: America does not forget,” Mr. Obama said. “Our reach is long. We are patient. Justice will be done. We have proved time and time again we will do what’s necessary to capture those who harm Americans — to go after those who harm Americans.”

The Islamic State has said it will kill a second hostage journalist, American Steven Sotloff, unless Mr. Obama stops airstrikes against the group.

Presidential aides have said Mr. Obama won’t necessarily seek congressional approval for airstrikes in Syria, just as he didn’t ask Congress for permission to launch the air war in Iraq. But a top Republican on the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations said Tuesday that Mr. Obama needs to come to Congress if he intends to strike at targets in Syria.

“We should certainly authorize this,” Sen. Bob Corker, Tennessee Republican, said on MSNBC.

The War Powers Act allows 60 days of military operations without coming back to Congress, but Mr. Corker said “this is going to have to be something far more coordinated.”

“For the American people’s sake, Congress should weigh in. Congress should be a part of this,” he said.

Rep. John B. Larson, Connecticut Democrat, said congressional approval may not be necessary, but lawmakers should be “fully engaged” on the issue.

“It remains unclear with regard to strikes in Syria whether the president needs congressional authority,” Mr. Larson said in a statement. “It is Congress’s duty to weigh in and clarify. As this serious situation continues to evolve, Congress has the responsibility to examine the issues and potentially vote on authorizing military force.”

With the Syrian regime of Bashar Assad opposed to unilateral U.S. airstrikes, White House aides have pointed to the secret U.S. operation that killed Osama bin Laden in 2011 in Pakistan as an example of the president taking counterterrorism action with or without the permission of the targeted country.

“The United States was not invited in by the Pakistani government,” Mr. Earnest said Monday. “That was a decision that the president made to go and get Osama bin Laden because it was necessary to protect the American people.”

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