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U.S. considers expanding Islamic State mission with airstrikes over Syria

August 27, 2014 at 6:26 PM EST
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GWEN IFILL: Plans for a possible expansion of U.S. airstrikes on Islamic State forces appeared to be firming up on two fronts today.

Chief foreign affairs correspondent Margaret Warner reports from Iraq.

MARGARET WARNER: U.S. warplanes have carried out more than 100 airstrikes in Northern Iraq in the last three weeks.  And now officials are talking openly of expanding the mission against the Islamic State forces into Syria.

On Monday, the Pentagon said it began surveillance flights above Syria, a necessary precursor to airstrikes.  And, today, The New York Times reported the Obama administration is building a coalition of nations to support just that step.

Presidential Press Secretary Josh Earnest addressed the question at today’s White House briefing.

JOSH EARNEST, White House Press Secretary: I know that there are some headlines in the paper today that would lead some to believe that the U.S. has begun a new diplomatic effort in pursuit of this one goal.

The fact is, this is — this element of our strategy is something that we have communicated on multiple occasions and will continue to be a critical part of whatever success we have.

MARGARET WARNER: There was also talk of launching a new humanitarian mission in Northern Iraq.  It was widely reported the focus of possible U.S. action has shifted to the town of Amirli, where thousands of Shiite Turkmen are under siege by Islamic State militants.

The Iraqi military evacuated a group of terrified women and children from the area on Monday.  And the United Nations mission in Iraq is calling for urgent action.

Again, White House spokesman Josh Earnest:

JOSH EARNEST: This is the kind of situation that the president has ordered military action in support of in the past.  And this particular situation is one that the president and his national security team continues to watch very closely.

MARGARET WARNER: There are fears the Turkmen could fall victim to the same atrocities visited on others considered infidels by Islamic State fighters.

The U.N. today accused the group of widespread war crimes in Iraq and Syria, including amputations and public executions.  At the same time, U.N. investigators voiced concern that boys forced into Islamic State training camps in Syria could be hit by any U.S. airstrikes.