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Obama Tells Central Command Troops America Will Lead

By Jim Garamone
DoD News, Defense Media Activity

WASHINGTON, Sept. 17, 2014 – In the fight against the Islamic State in Syria and the Levant, America will lead the right way, President Barack Obama told service members at MacDill Air Force Base, Florida, today.

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President Barack Obama is flanked by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Army Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, commander of U.S. Central Command, as he prepares to address troops at MacDill Air Force Base, Fla., Sept. 17, 2014. DoD photo from video

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

Obama and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel received a briefing from U.S. Central Command commander Army Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III detailing the fight against the terrorist group in Iraq and Syria. The president also met with representatives of 40 countries allied in the fight against the militants.

The president thanked the service members for their contributions in 13 years of war, and told them he must call on them again to battle the newest menace in the Middle East. Still, the president stressed that American service members will lead the fight against ISIL, but will not shoulder the entire burden.

“We’re going to degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL through a comprehensive and sustained counterterrorism strategy,” Obama told the troops. “And whether in Iraq or in Syria, these terrorists will learn the same thing that the leaders of al-Qaida already know: We mean what we say. Our reach is long. If you threaten America, you will find no safe haven. We will find you eventually.”

Destroying ISIL

Destroying ISIL is not America’s fight alone, Obama said. The United States military has unique -- and decisive -- capabilities it can bring to the fight, he added, but this does not mean American troops will engage in ground combat. “The American forces that have been deployed to Iraq do not and will not have a combat mission,” the president stated, but rather will advise and assist Iraqi forces.

“As your commander in chief, I will not commit you and the rest of our armed forces to fighting another ground war in Iraq,” he said. “After a decade of massive ground deployments, it is more effective to use our unique capabilities in support of partners on the ground so they can secure their own countries’ futures.”

America will provide air power and air mobility, the president said, and U.S. service members will train and equip partners. “We will lead a broad coalition of countries who have a stake in this fight, because this is not simply America versus ISIL, this is the people of the region fighting against ISIL,” he added. “It is the world rejecting the brutality of ISIL in favor of a better future for our children, and our children’s children.”

In addition to providing capabilities, the United States also will provide leadership, “because in an uncertain world full of breathtaking change, the one constant is American leadership,” the president said.

Effort will be different

But this effort will be different, because America has learned the lessons of the past, Obama said. “We’ve got to do things differently,” he told the troops. “This is why we’ve spent the past several weeks building a coalition to aid in these efforts. And because we’re leading in the right way, more nations are joining us. Overall, more than 40 countries so far have offered assistance to the broad campaign against ISIL.”

Obama said France and the United Kingdom already are aiding the effort, flying missions over Iraq. Others have promised help, he added.

Other nations will support the forces fighting ISIL terrorists on the ground, Obama said. Saudi Arabia has agreed to host efforts to train and equip Syrian opposition forces, he noted, while Australia and Canada will send military advisors to Iraq. German paratroopers will offer training.

Still other nations have helped in resupplying arms and equipment to forces in Iraq, including the Kurdish Peshmerga, the president said.

Arab allies

“Arab nations have agreed to strengthen their support for Iraq’s new government and to do their part in all the aspects of the fight against ISIL,” Obama said. “And our partners will help to cut off ISIL funding, and gather intelligence, and stem the flow of foreign fighters into and out of the Middle East.”

Finally, almost 30 nations have helped with humanitarian relief to help innocent civilians ISIL has driven from their homes and villages.

“In a world that’s more crowded and more connected, it is America that has the unique capability to mobilize against an organization like ISIL,” he said. It is also why the world turns to America when another threat -- this time from the pathogen Ebola in Africa -- threatens.

Who do they call?

“That’s the story across the board,” Obama said. “If there is a hurricane, if there is a typhoon, if there is some sort of crisis, if there is an earthquake, if there’s a need for a rescue mission, when the world is threatened, when the world needs help, it calls on America. Even the countries that complain about America, when they need help, who do they call? They call us. And then America calls on you.”

The president said the world asks a lot of American service members. But that is because of the U.S. military is one of the few organizations in the world with the expertise, knowledge, reach, equipment and agility to accomplish these diverse and challenging missions, he explained.

“Even when it seems like our politics is just dividing us, I want you to remember that when it comes to supporting you and your families, the American people stand united. We support you,” he said. “We are proud of you. We are in awe of your skill and your service. Only 1 percent of Americans may wear the uniform and shoulder the weight of special responsibilities that you do, but 100 percent of Americans need to support you and your families -- 100 percent.”

(Follow Jim Garamone on Twitter: @GaramoneDoDNews)


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Special Report: Targeted Operations Against ISIL Terrorists in Iraq
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