By Lisa Mascaro Tribune Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama acknowledged Sunday that militants fighting in Syria and Iraq pose a direct threat to the United States because many of them have Western passports that enable them to easily enter the country without visas.
“I think we have been under serious threat my entire presidency, and we have been under serious threat predating 9/11 from those who embrace this ideology,” Obama said on ABC’s “This Week.”
“We have to improve our surveillance, reconnaissance, intelligence there. Special forces are going to have a role. And there are going to be times where we take strikes against organizations that could do us harm,” Obama said.
Militant fighters aligned with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria have overrun the military in parts of Iraq, threatening the capital of Baghdad in recent weeks and prompting the White House to dispatch 300 military advisors to help stabilize the region.
“They’re gaining strength in some places,” Obama said. “We’ve seen Europeans who are sympathetic to their cause traveling into Syria and now may travel into Iraq, getting battle-hardened. Then they come back. They’ve got European passports. They don’t need a visa to get into the United States.”
Rep. Peter T. King, R-N.Y., said that as many as 100 Americans and “thousands” of European passport holders have joined the fight in Syria. In response, the U.S. is working to increase security at overseas airports.
“Any of these people can come back to the United States and they can carry out the type of attack that they’re being trained in in Syria,” King said on the same show. “All we have to do is risk one or two of them and we could have a very, very lethal attack here in the U.S.”
Whether Congress will need to give its approval to authorize the White House’s military actions in Iraq remains open for debate. Many lawmakers are reluctant to vote on the issue ahead of the midterm elections when they will be seeking support from Americans weary after a decade of war.
“I believe the president has to come back to Congress,” Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” “He should come back to Congress. And I can assure you there’s no appetite for us to get boots on the ground and go back into that country in any way, shape or form.”