WASHINGTON — The United States has begun to mobilize a broad coalition of allies behind potential military action in Syria and is moving toward expanded airstrikes in northern Iraq, administration officials said Tuesday.
President Barack Obama, the officials said, was broadening his campaign against the Sunni militants of the Islamic State group and nearing a decision to authorize airstrikes and airdrops of food and water around the northern Iraqi town of Amerli, home to members of Iraq’s Turkmen minority. The town of 12,000 has been under siege for more than two months by the militants.
“Rooting out a cancer like ISIL won’t be easy and it won’t be quick,” Obama said in a speech Tuesday to the American Legion in Charlotte, North Carolina, using an alternative name for the group. He said that the United States was building a coalition to “take the fight to these barbaric terrorists,” and that the militants would be “no match” for a united international community.
Administration officials characterized the dangers facing the Turkmen, who are Shiite Muslims considered infidels by the Islamic State, as similar to the threat faced by thousands of Yazidis, who were driven to Mount Sinjar in Iraq after attacks by the militants. The United Nations special representative for Iraq, Nickolay Mladenov, said in a statement three days ago that the situation in Amerli “demands immediate action to prevent the possible massacre of its citizens.”
As Obama considered new strikes, the White House began its diplomatic campaign to enlist allies and neighbors in the region to increase their support for Syria’s moderate opposition and, in some cases, to provide support for possible U.S. military operations. The countries likely to be enlisted include Australia, Britain, Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates, officials said.
The officials, who asked not be named discussing sensitive internal deliberations, said they expected that Britain and Australia would be willing to join the U.S. in an air campaign. The officials said they also wanted help from Turkey, which has military bases that could be used to support an effort in Syria.
Turkey is a transit route for foreign fighters, including those from the U.S. and Europe who have traveled to Syria to join the Islamic State. Administration officials said they are now asking officials in Ankara to help tighten the border. The administration is also seeking intelligence and surveillance help from Jordan as well as financial help from Saudi Arabia, which bankrolls groups in Syria that are fighting President Bashar Assad.
On Monday the Pentagon began surveillance flights over Syria in an effort to collect information on possible Islamic State targets as a precursor to airstrikes, a senior official said. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an organization that monitors the humanitarian consequences of the conflict in Syria, reported that “non-Syrian spy planes” on Monday carried out surveillance of Islamic State positions in the eastern province of Deir Ezzor.