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Obama promises no U.S. ground war against ISIS, but some in Congress wary

President Obama on Wednesday night put forward a plan to destroy the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) that was short on details but included one clear assurance: The effort "will not involve American combat troops fighting on foreign soil."

Some members of Congress, however, including a few vulnerable Democrats up for re-election this year, sound skeptical that the president can keep that promise.

"I will not give this president -- or any other president -- a blank check to begin another land war in Iraq," Sen. Mark Udall, a Democrat in a competitive re-election campaign in Colorado, said in a statement. "I will continue to demand that the administration provide a very clear picture of its goals and objectives."

Sen. Mark Begich of Alaska, another Democrat in a key midterm race, said that the United States " can't continue to foot the bill of Middle East conflicts, and the nations in the region need to step up in a meaningful way. After over a decade of costly war, many Alaskans are rightfully wary of putting combat troops on the ground."

Begich added that he opposes Mr. Obama's plan to arm moderate Syrian rebels. "I am gravely concerned by reports of ISIS seizing and utilizing U.S. weapons intended for those fighting against the Syrian regime, and we must have greater assurance that we aren't arming extremists who will eventually use the weapons against us," he said.

The president said in his remarks from the White House that "we will not get dragged into another ground war," but some lawmakers seemed to take issue with his semantics.

Republican Senators John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina released a joint reaction to Mr. Obama's remarks, commending him for laying out a "the elements of a comprehensive strategy." At the same time, they added, "'No boots on the ground' sounds odd when 1,100 U.S. troops have been sent back to Iraq. And more will be necessary."

Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Florida, said in a statement that the U.S. "will probably put boots on the ground, but it will be more commando raids and forward air observers with others to do the actual strikes on the ground."

But, he added, "We have no choice. This is a vicious, diabolical group that must be stopped." And while Mr. Obama gave no timeframe for the fight against ISIS, Nelson said, "It's going to be a long-term deal. It's going to be probably years."

Nelson, a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, introduced legislation this week to authorize the use of military force against ISIS, but it's unclear whether Congress will vote on the bill before recessing for the campaign season.

Mr. Obama on Wednesday night said his approach has bipartisan approval, adding, "I welcome congressional support." However, he has not explicitly asked for congressional authority and made clear Wednesday night that he doesn't think he needs it, saying, "I have the authority to address the threat" from ISIS."

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, said "the one element" of Mr. Obama's strategy that requires immediate congressional action is the authority to equip and train Syrian troops -- not the use of military force. He said Republicans and Democrats will come together in the weeks ahead to grant that authority.

Reid said the president's strategy against ISIS will "be smart, effective and targeted." Echoing the president's assurances, he added, "We will not rush into another ground war in the Middle East and we will not go it alone."

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said Mr. Obama "presented a compelling case for action," but added that "many questions remain about the way in which the president intends to act."

The speaker said that if Mr. Obama views the effort against ISIS as "an isolated counter-terrorism campaign," then his plan falls short of what's necessary: "An all-out effort to destroy an enemy that has declared a holy war against America and the principles for which we stand."