Fight against ISIS: US lawmakers authorise Obama plan to aid Syrian rebels

US Secretary of State John Kerry holds up a copy of the Wall Street Journal as he testifies during a hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Sept 17, 2014 in Washington. -- PHOTO: AFP
US Secretary of State John Kerry holds up a copy of the Wall Street Journal as he testifies during a hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Sept 17, 2014 in Washington. -- PHOTO: AFP

US lawmakers have authorised the White House to aid Syrian rebels in the fight against militant group ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) in a largely symbolic vote in the House of Representatives.

The House approved the measure 273 to 156 in a vote that concluded just after 5pm in the US capital. In a dramatic change from recent form, the vote did not fall along party lines, with Republicans appearing to be more supportive of the move than Democrats.

President Barack Obama and other top White House officials are said to have lobbied Democrats heavily leading up to the vote. The legislation - which does not include any authorisation for spending - has otherwise little practical effect on the US plans to combat Islamic militants in Iraq and Syria but it took on the added significance of being a measure of the President's support within his own party.

Opponents to the measure portrayed the move as a dangerous first step towards approving a wider US military operation in the Middle East.

For the second day running, the administration appeared to be wrapped up in a debate over whether it ever intends to send American combat troops to the region.

Since General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, told a Senate committee on Tuesday that he may recommend sending American forces to the frontlines under certain scenarios, the administration has been busy pushing the message that this did not mean a ground combat operation was imminent.

Both President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry stressed at separate events that there was no intention to put boots on the ground.

Testifying before the Senate Foreign Relation Committee, Secretary Kerry stated categorically that the policy had not changed.

"President Obama made clear that we will be expanding the military campaign to take on ISIL in Iraq, in Syria, wherever it is found. But this is not the Gulf war in 1991; it is not the Iraq war in 2003; and that’s true for a number of reasons. Number one, US ground troops will not be sent into combat in this conflict," he said.

"From the last decade we know that a sustainable strategy is not US ground forces; it is enabling local forces to do what they have to do for themselves and for their country. I want to be clear: The US troops that have been deployed to Iraq do not and will not have a combat mission."

Mr Obama brought the same message to US troops when he visited MacDill Air Force Base in Florida.

"The American forces that have been deployed to Iraq do not and will not have a combat mission. They will support Iraqi forces on the ground as they fight for their own country against these terrorists. As your Commander-in-Chief, I will not commit you and the rest of our Armed Forces to fighting another ground war in Iraq. After a decade of massive ground deployments, it is more effective to use our unique capabilities in support of partners on the ground so they can secure their own countries’ futures. And that's the only solution that will succeed over the long term," he said.