US & Canada

Obama hails Congress backing for Syria plan

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Media captionMr Obama made his statement moments after the Senate backed his plan

President Obama has said Congress's backing for his $500m plan to aid moderate Syrian rebels shows the world the US is united against Islamic State.

He spoke moments after the US Senate approved his plan, a day after it was passed by the House of Representatives.

"The strong bipartisan support in Congress for this new training effort shows the world Americans are united in confronting the threat from Isil."

On Thursday, the US continued to strike IS targets in Iraq.

The jihadist group known as IS, Isis or Isil, controls large areas of Syria and northern Iraq, and the US has undertaken 174 air strikes against it in Iraq since mid-August.

Air strikes are now expected in Syria, but Mr Obama has pledged to not authorise a ground operation in either country.

"We can join with allies and partners to destroy Isil without American troops fighting another ground war in the Middle East," he said in his White House statement.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Syrian rebels are fighting Assad's forces (above) as well as IS

France's President Francois Hollande earlier said he had agreed to the Iraqi government's request for air support for forces fighting the jihadist group - but not in Syria.

The US Senate passed the $500m (£305m) proposal despite some reservations from members of both parties.

"While I'm concerned about the ability of the coalition to generate sufficient combat power to defeat [IS] within Syria, I do support the president's proposal to begin the programme," said Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, usually at odds with the US president.

In the House on Wednesday, Republicans voted for the measure two-to-one while Democrats backed the plan 114-85.

The bill, attached to a larger measure funding the US government after 1 October, will only authorise the programme until 11 December, allowing the measure to be debated at greater length after the US midterm elections.

Among those questioning the wisdom of the measure ahead of the Senate vote were members of Mr Obama's own Democratic party.

"If we've learned anything of the last 12 years of war, it's that the Middle East seems largely immune from US efforts to bend it to our will," Senator Chris Murphy said on Wednesday during a committee hearing.

Image caption Note: where strikes are reported over two days, the latest date is recorded

During a House committee hearing on Thursday, Secretary of State John Kerry pushed back against doubts on the loyalties and effectiveness of rebel groups.

He said several of them, each including as many as 4,000 fighters, had fought against IS and other militants.

In the same hearing, Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel said the US military had presented a detailed plan for air strikes in Syria to Mr Obama on Wednesday and was awaiting his approval.

"The president has not yet approved its finality," Mr Hagel said.

The Obama administration has said the president has the authority to authorise air strikes inside Syria but needed Congressional approval for the train-and-equip programme, which Saudi Arabia has agreed to host.

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