World

Obama signs law authorizing U.S. support for Syrian rebels fighting against ISIS

U.S. President Barack Obama on Friday signed into law legislation authorizing the U.S. military to arm and train moderate Syrian rebels fighting Islamic State militants in the Middle East.

Senate vote blended support from president's Democratic allies and some Republican critics

U.S. President Barack Obama said that support from both Republicans and Democrats "shows the world that Americans are united" in combating the Islamic State group. (Evan Vucci/Associated Press)

President Barack Obama on Friday signed into law legislation authorizing the U.S. military to arm and train moderate Syrian rebels fighting Islamic State militants in the Middle East.

Obama acted a day after a Senate vote capped congressional action on the request, which passed by wide margins despite reservation about whether his strategy will do enough to stop the surging terrorist group, which has seized large swaths of Iraq and Syria. Congress will revisit the issue after the midterm elections.

Thursday's bipartisan 78-22 tally Thursday blended support from Obama's close Democratic allies and some of his fiercest Republican critics, including top Senate Republican Mitch McConnell. It put leading contenders for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination on opposite sides. Some of Obama's liberal allies defected.

The legislation also provides funding for the government after the end of the budget year on Sept. 30, eliminating any threat of a shutdown in the run-up to November elections that will seat a new House and decide control of the Senate. The House approved the bill on Wednesday.

Obama said Thursday that the support from both Republicans and Democrats "shows the world that Americans are united" in combating the Islamic State group. He said the militants thought they could frighten or intimidate Americans, but the Senate vote had showed them they were wrong.

'We pull together'

"As Americans, we do not give in to fear," Obama said. "We pull together. We stand together."

U.S. troops would train Syrian rebels at camps in Saudi Arabia, though the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey, said it could take a year before they would return to the battlefield in Syria. The arm-and-train authority only extends into December, and lawmakers are to revisit the issue in a postelection session.

Supporters of the proposal agreed that more has to be done to combat Islamic State extremists who are on the move in Iraq and Syria and shocked the world by beheading two American journalists and a British aid worker. The U.S. estimates the extremists can muster 20,000 to 31,500 fighters across Syria and Iraq, with two-thirds of them in Syria and the rest in Iraq. Terrorism experts say they are better organized and more dangerous than al-Qaida, which is lending urgency to the effort.

But opponents of Obama's strategy say it would hand weapons to shadowy groups that could prove untrustworthy and whose top priority is to topple Syrian President Bashar Assad.

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