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Obama war strategy under scrutiny

This week will offer the US Congress its best chance to obtain answers about president Barack Obama’s new counter-terror strategy in the Middle East.

As politicians prepare for votes to arm and train Syrian rebels, a key element of Mr Obama’s plan to fight Islamic State militants, some opponents are airing their concerns.

Leaders of both parties support Mr Obama’s strategy to push back the Islamic State group in Iraq and begin targeting its base of operations in Syria.

However, there has been confusion about how representatives and senators should do their part by approving the plan to arm and train “moderate,” vetted Syrian opposition groups in Saudi Arabia as a ground force capable of displacing extremists.

Some politicians want harder action against the Islamic State extremists who have conquered parts of Syria and Iraq. Others fear entanglement in a new war, while some want to know why the administration wants to help rebels it has largely avoided aiding militarily throughout Syria’s three-year civil war and what the costs and duration of such an engagement might be.

Some are challenging Mr Obama’s authorisation to use force without Congress’ consent.

US defence secretary Chuck Hagel is to brief House and Senate committees on Tuesday and Thursday, and Joint Chiefs Chairman General Martin Dempsey will also testify. Secretary of State John Kerry will testify before separate panels on Wednesday and Thursday.

House Republicans are considering including the programme for arming and training the Syria rebels as an amendment to a sweeping spending bill that Congress needs to pass to keep the government open until mid-December.

That would provide an opportunity to hold a separate debate and vote on the matter.

Congress is operating on a tight schedule. The House and Senate are hoping to wrap up work by Friday before departing on an almost two-month recess in preparation for early November’s mid-term elections.

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