US Senate supports Obama plan to arm Syria rebels in campaign against ISIS

US President Barack Obama makes a statement about the vote on Capitol Hill on his request to arm and train Syrian rebels in the fight against the Islamic State while in the State Dining Room at the White House in Washington on Sept 18, 2014. -- PHOTO
US President Barack Obama makes a statement about the vote on Capitol Hill on his request to arm and train Syrian rebels in the fight against the Islamic State while in the State Dining Room at the White House in Washington on Sept 18, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

THE US Senate has approved President Barack Obama's plan to equip and train Syrian rebels, a major part of his military campaign to destroy the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Obama said the strong bipartisan support in the Congress showed Americans were united in the fight against ISIS militants.

"I am pleased that Congress have voted to support a key element of our strategy...I believe we are strongest as a nation when the president and Congress work together," he said in a brief televised address shortly after the Senate vote on Thursday.

He also welcomed news that France has agreed to join the US airstrikes against ISIS and said that at least 40 countries are now part of the coalition.

Senate backed Obama's proposal 78-22, though many of the doubts that emerged a day earlier in the House of Representatives remained.

Democratic Senator Dick Durbin told reporters after the vote that a lot of the uncertainty within the President's own party stems from the fear that the administration has not learnt from its past mistakes.

"What we learned in Iraq is that presidents were capable of misleading Congress into voting for a war," he said.

In his speech, Obama reiterated that US forces "do not and will not" have combat mission, a message he has been pushing all week.

"The US forces who have been deployed to Iraq do not and will not have a combat mission," he said.

His remark seemingly closed the door on any future deployment that was hinted by General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, earlier this week.

jeremyau@sph.com.sg