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Obama reportedly ready to authorise airstrikes against Islamic State in Syria

Obama will outline his plan to fight the Islamic State militant group in a prime time televised speech on Wednesday from the White House
Obama talks with Speaker of the House John Boehner and other congressional leaders on Tuesday at the White House (AFP)

Ahead of his scheduled speech on Wednesday which will outline his strategy to fight Islamic State militants, US President Barack Obama has reportedly told congressional leaders that he is prepared - and believes he has the authority - to authorise airstrikes in Syria.

Senior administration officials and others briefed on the president's plan describe a broader, long-term strategy than the targeted strikes and drones that the US has used again al-Qaeda in Yemen and Pakistan, the New York Times reported.

Obama reportedly told Republican and Democratic leaders of the House and the Senate that he believes he has the authority needed to order an expansion of the country's operation that started in Iraq on 8 August but would "welcome action by the Congress that would aid the overall effort," according to a White House statement.

During his prime time televised address, Obama will attempt to redress criticism that he has been slow to respond to the militant group's seizure of a haven in Syria and Iraq, and reassure the US public as well as international allies amid fears fighters armed with Western passports could train their sights on the US homeland.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Obama would use his speech to "discuss with the American people the threat posed by (IS) and to lay out the United States' strategy for degrading and ultimately destroying the terrorist group."

Mindful of avoiding what he believes are the mistakes of the last decade, Obama is expected to assure millions of television viewers that he will not send conventional ground troops back to Iraq to fight a group that has beheaded two US journalists.

On the eve of the 13th anniversary of the September 11 attacks, which pitched the US into a regional conflagration Obama has spent much of his presidency trying to escape and sees the ending of wars in Afghanistan and Iraq as the centerpiece of his legacy, his speech has poignant timing. 

The speech also comes almost exactly a year after Obama first threatened aistrikes in Syria after a chemical weapons attack killed an unknown number of people in the Ghouta suburbs of Damascus. Initially, activists said 300 people had died, while later the Syrian National Coalition put the number at 1,300. At least 3,600 patients displayed 'neurotoxic symptoms' following the attack, according to Medicins Sans Frontieres 

The Syrian opposition and their supporters blamed Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who has been brutally quashing an ongoing rebellion since 2011 and was known to have a sizeable stockpile of chemical weapons. The Assad government and international allies including Russia accused rebel forces, and culpability soon descended into a propaganda war.

Siding with the rebels, the US and Western allies such as Britain and France initially threatened military intervention in the wake of the atrocity. However, by September all had backed out following a Russian-brokered deal that required Assad to destroy all his chemical weapons within a year.

Expectations that the president will expand US strikes in Iraq into Syria coincide with signs that the American public sees the group as an increasing threat, and is increasingly open to stepped up military action.

Since June, American support for airstrikes on Islamic State targets in Iraq has grown nearly 30 percent, a new poll released today has suggested. 

According to the poll by Washington Post-ABC News, 71 percent of all Americans say they support airstrikes in Iraq. This is up from 54 percent three weeks ago and from 45 percent in June.

The poll also found that 65 percent of Americans are in favour of launching airstrikes against IS in Syria – a controversial move as it could possibly benefit the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad.

"That is more than double the level of support from a year ago for launching airstrikes to punish the Syrian regime for using chemical weapons," the survey said.

The CNN-ORC International poll released Monday also found similar support for airstrikes against the insurgent group. 

That survey showed 76 percent of Americans in favour of airstrikes against IS targets, while 90 percent of Americans think that the Islamic State is a threat to the US. 

The United States has conducted at least 148 air strikes against IS targets in Iraq since 8 August and it has more than 800 military personnel to safeguard its Baghdad embassy and to assist Iraq's army.

It continued to pound IS positions on Tuesday, helping Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga fighters to hold their ground near the hotly-contested central city of Kirkuk, despite repeated IS threats to launch a major offensive.