Obama orders airstrikes on ISIS in Syria

Barack Obama says his country will lead what he calls a “broad coalition” to destroy ISIS.

US President Barack Obama. Picture: AFP.

JOHANNESBURG - US President Barack Obama says his country will lead what he calls a "broad coalition" to destroy ISIS and says airstrikes could be carried out in Syria.

In a live televised address to Americans last night, Obama said a programme of expanded strikes mark a steady, relentless effort to root out is extremists and their spreading reign of terror.

He says the US is sending around 500 more troops to Iraq to assist its security forces and has urged Congress to authorise a programme to train and arm Syrian rebels who are fighting both the ISIS militants and President Bashar Assad.

"Our objective is to degrade and destroy ISIS through a comprehensive and sustained counter terrorism strategy."

Obama's decision to launch attacks inside Syria, which is embroiled in a three-year civil war, marked a turnabout for the president, who shied away a year ago from airstrikes to punish Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for using chemical weapons against his own people.

In a widely anticipated, 13-minute White House speech, Obama said he would hunt down ISIS militants "wherever they are" in a drive to degrade and ultimately destroy the group, which has seized broad stretches of Iraq and Syria.

"That means I will not hesitate to take action against ISIS in Syria, as well as Iraq. This is a core principle of my presidency: if you threaten America, you will find no safe haven," he said, speaking on the eve of the 13th anniversary of the 11 September, 2001, attacks.

It is unclear whether more American weapons and training can shift the battlefield balance toward the US-backed rebels, who are badly outgunned by Islamic State, other militant groups and Assad's forces.

A vote on the money would put lawmakers on record supporting the military action, although White House officials stressed Obama already had the authority he needed for the new moves.

Obama plans to expand the list of targets inside Iraq beyond several isolated areas. The US military has launched more than 150 airstrikes in Iraq in the past month to help halt Islamic State advances.

The new target list will include Islamic State's "leadership, logistical and operational capability," as well as an attempt to "deny it sanctuary and resources to plan, prepare and execute attacks," the White House said.

US officials have warned it will take years to destroy Islamic State, and Obama told Americans: "It will take time to eradicate a cancer like ISIL," the White House's acronym for the militant group.

Additional reporting by Reuters.