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House Authorizes Obama's Plan to Arm, Train Syrian Rebels


"Any strategy to defeat ISIL must contain a Syria component..."

President Barack Obama address the group of soldiers at US Central Command (CentCom) at MacDill Air Force Base, Fla., Wednesday, Sept. 17, 2014. Obama says U.S. forces in Iraq "do not and will not" have a combat mission as part of the effort against Islamic State militants. Obama received a briefing Wednesday from officers at U.S. Central Command in Tampa, Florida. That command oversees military efforts in the Mideast. (AP Photo/The Tampa Bay Times, James Borchuck , Pool) AP Photo/The Tampa Bay Times, James Borchuck , Pool

After two days of debate, the House voted Wednesday to authorize the Obama administration to arm and train moderate Syrian rebels who officials hope will fight the Islamic State.

Involving Syrian rebels is just part of the Obama administration's plan, which also involves increased airstrikes against the Islamic State in both Syria and Iraq, humanitarian aid, and intelligence services. But so far, the Syria piece of the plan is the only one that Congress will have to authorize.

President Barack Obama plans to arm and train moderate Syrians, and the House approved that plan in a Wednesday vote. (AP Photo/The Tampa Bay Times, James Borchuck , Pool)

The vote followed several days of vote counting, as well as criticism, by members of both parties. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) made it clear Congress should support Obama, despite GOP arguments that his strategy is not enough to defeat the terrorist group.

And while Democratic leaders also supported Obama, it was known that many Democrats would vote against the measure for fear of heading down a slippery slope that could end up with more ground troops in Iraq.

In the end, the authorization passed by a relatively comfortable 273-156 margin. Majorities in both parties supported it — 71 Republicans voted against it, along with 85 Democrats.

Despite criticism from both parties, most saw the language as a necessary first step to stopping the Islamic State, also known as ISIL or ISIS, from seizing more territory in the Middle East from which it could potentially launch attacks against the United States.

"There is no doubt that any strategy to defeat ISIL must contain a Syria component," said Rep. Buck McKeon (R-Calif.), whose Armed Services Committee wrote the language.

"I believe that there are options to defeat ISIL in Syria short of a major U.S.-led combat operation," he said. "But the window of opportunity is closing."

The top Democrat on the committee, Rep. Adam Smith (Wash.), acknowledged that the U.S. needs a partner in Syria that is an alternative to Bashar al-Assad and the Islamic State, and said training and arming moderates would help create one. "We have a small group of people that we have been supporting in a variety of different ways, but we need that group to grow," he said.

Even some Republicans who think Obama is not doing nearly enough to fight the Islamic State reluctantly supported the language.

"The strategy the President announced is not so much a strategy as a continuation of a counterterrorism policy that relies on others to be on the front line to protect United States national security interests when their motivations, interests, and capabilities may or may not align with our interests," said Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-N.J.), who voted for it. "I have to state here and now that I am concerned that the President's plan is, first of all, very late; secondly, may be based on unrealistic assumptions."

Earlier in the day, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) again offered support for Obama's plan, and said he's doing his best to prevent another situation that requires U.S. ground troops. But she stressed that she would not support troops under any circumstances, a prospect that was raised by Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey, who indicated that changed circumstances could require ground troops.

Technically, the vote in favor of the authorization language attached it as an amendment to a short-term government funding bill. Minutes later, the House passed the entire funding bill in a 319-108 vote, which sent the entire package to the Senate. A Senate vote could come as early as Thursday.

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