President Obama has approved U.S military surveillance flights over Syria to track the Islamic militant group ISIS, a group that American warplanes have been attacking in neighboring Iraq, ABC News has confirmed.
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The U.S. has not made any decision on expanding its air offensive against ISIS, also known by the acronym ISIL, into Syria, a U.S. official said.
The decision on the surveillance flights emerged as the president told veterans at the American Legion’s National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., that airstrikes against ISIS must be part of a broader strategy.
“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 ISIL,” the president said.
He cautioned that “we have to use our power wisely.”
American jets and drones have helped halt the advance of ISIS in Iraq and roll back some of the territorial gains by the Islamic militants. The number of flights and air strikes has increased in recent weeks and top Pentagon officials have said they have considered whether to extend those attacks to ISIS forces in Syria. The U.S. has also been providing weaponry to Kurdish forces in northern Iraq who had been battling with ISIS fighters.
“Rooting out a cancer like ISIL won’t be easy and it won’t be quick, but tyrants and murderers before them should recognize that kind of hateful vision ultimately is no match for the strength and hopes of people who stand together for the security and dignity and freedom that is the birthright of every human being,” he said.
The president made clear that the U.S. can't take on ISIS without the backing of allies.
“History teaches us of the dangers of overreaching and spreading ourselves too thin and trying to go it alone without international support, or rushing into military adventures without thinking through the consequences,” he said.
The president repeated his vow that the U.S. would not send ground troops back into Iraq for combat duty.
Obama warned ISIS that the killers of American journalist James Foley will be hunted down. Foley was beheaded allegedly in retaliation for the U.S. air campaign, and after a $100 million ransom demand was rebuffed.
“Our message to anyone who harms our people is simple. America does not forget, our reach is long, we are patient, justice will be done,” he said. “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. And we’ll continue to take direct action where needed to protect our people and to defend our homeland.”
There are indications that British investigators may be closing in on the identity of the masked ISIS member who spoke with a British accent and was videotaped carrying out the gruesome execution.
Since the video of Foley's execution shocked the West, Obama has endured a new round of criticism of his foreign policy and calls for a more aggressive response to the emerging threat posed by ISIS.
“Even countries that criticize us, when the chips are down, they know who to call,” he said.