By Justin Sink - 09/17/14 12:44 PM EDT
President Obama repeatedly emphasized he will not use ground troops against Islamic terrorists, seeking to shore up support from Democrats ahead of a key vote Wednesday authorizing the Pentagon to train rebel fighters in the region.
“I will not commit you, and the rest of our Armed Forces, to fighting another ground war in Iraq,” Obama declared flatly during an appearance at MacDill Air Force Base, which houses the U.S. Central Command.
The assurances came a day after Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Martin Dempsey told lawmakers that it was possible conditions in Iraq could deteriorate to the point that he would recommend Obama send U.S. ground troops to fight ISIS.
That admission raised alarm among lawmakers, who worry that Wednesday's vote authorizing new powers to train Syrian rebels would serve as a tacit endorsement of a broader military campaign.
Following a meeting with top military commanders responsible for the operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, Obama insisted any U.S. service members in Iraq would only “support Iraqi forces on the ground as they fight for their own country against these terrorists.”
“We cannot do for the Iraqis what they must do for themselves,” he added.
The president's remarks echoed House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who earlier in the day insisted that a vote to authorize the training of the moderate Syrian opposition did not endorse additional engagements.
“The vote today is about one very discrete piece, and that is the training of these rebels,” Pelosi said. “It is not to be confused with any authorization to go further.”
“I will not vote for combat troops to [be] engaged in war,” Pelosi added.
White House press secretary Josh Earnest reiterated later Wednesday that the president "will not review or consider" any recommendations presented by the Pentagon that would deploy U.S. troops in a combat role to Iraq or Syria.
Obama would, however, evaluate the forward deployment of troops serving as advisors to the Iraqi military on a case-by-case basis. But those advisers would "not have a combat role," instead offering tactical advice or calling in airstrikes, he said.
The president, who is set to host members of Congress and their families at the White House following the House vote on Wednesday, made only one explicit mention of the proceedings on Capitol Hill.
“I've called on Congress to make sure you've got all the authorities and resources you need to get the job done,” Obama said.
Instead, he devoted much of his speech to rallying the soldiers and airmen who will be supporting the mission against ISIS forces.
“We always knew that the end of the war in Afghanistan didn't mean the end of threats or challenges to America,” Obama said, crediting Central Command with having conducted more than 160 airstrikes already against the terror network.
Obama said that there was still scant evidence that ISIS posed a direct threat to the U.S., but acknowledged threatening rhetoric from the group's leaders.
Earlier Wednesday, ISIS released a movie trailer-style video that appeared to threaten the White House and U.S. military personnel.
“If left unchecked, they could pose a growing threat to the United States,” Obama said.
“We're going to degrade and ultimately destroy [ISIS] through a comprehensive and sustained counterterrorism strategy,” he added.
Upon returning to Washington, the president plans to meet with his national security team and update them on his conversations with military leaders in Tampa.
This story was updated at 3:01 p.m.