- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 18, 2014

President Obama expects U.S. troops to return fire if Islamic State militants shoot at them, the White House said Thursday, as new questions surfaced about the president’s direct role in dictating the rules of engagement in the war in Iraq and Syria.

Iraq is a very dangerous place, and U.S. military personnel will have the equipment to defend themselves,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest said. “Certainly the commander in chief would expect that the American troops do what is necessary to defend themselves.”

The president has emphasized that he is sending a relatively small number of non-combat U.S. military personnel, about 1,600, to Iraq as advisers to the Iraqi and Kurdish forces fighting the militants on the ground. Mr. Obama vowed again this week that he won’t send combat troops back to Iraq after the costly war that ended in 2011.

But as Mr. Obama authorizes expanded U.S. airstrikes against the militants in Iraq and Syria, he’s facing more questions about his high level of personal involvement in setting the rules for the fighting. Mr. Earnest denied a report Thursday that Mr. Obama will personally authorize each bombing run by U.S. aircraft in Syria.

“Not true,” Mr. Earnest said. “What the president has done in Iraq, and what he will do in Syria, is lay out clear guidelines for what the president envisions for our military planning, and he will authorize, or, you know, put in place guidelines that the military can use to carry out these operations.”

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel told the House Armed Services Committee Thursday that he and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin E. Dempsey have signed off on plans to strike the Islamic State in Syria. He said Gen. Lloyd Austin III, the commander of the U.S. Central Command, briefed Mr. Obama in Tampa on Wednesday on the plan.

“CENTCOM’s plan includes targeted actions against [Islamic State] safe havens in Syria — including its command and control, logistics capabilities, and infrastructure,” Mr. Hagel said. “Our actions will not be restrained by a border that exists in name only.”

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