WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama tamped down the prospect of imminent U.S. military action in Syria today, saying "we don't have a strategy yet" for degrading the violent militant group seeking to establish a caliphate in the Middle East.
The president spoke shortly before convening a meeting of his national security advisers to discuss a range of Pentagon options for confronting the Islamic State group. The U.S. is already striking militant targets in Iraq, and administration officials have said the president was considering similar action in neighboring Syria.
Obama's decision to speak on the matter today appeared aimed at clarifying the speed with which he planned to decide on expanding the U.S. military response. While some officials have indicated the process would be fast-moving, the president suggested a longer timeline today.
"We don't have a strategy yet," the president said. "I think that's not just my assessment, but the assessment of our military, as well. We need to make sure that we've got clear plans, that we're developing them."
The statement appeared certain to open up Obama to criticism from Republicans who have complained for months that the president lacked a broad strategy for confronting militants in Iraq and Syria. White House officials quickly sought to clean up after the president, insisting that he was only talking about a lack of a clear military strategy in Syria, not a more wide-ranging approach to degrading the Islamic State.
But Obama's critics said it was both shocking and concerning to hear the president equivocate. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers, R-Mich., said the lack of urgency demonstrated that Obama still doesn't understand the extent of the threat posed by the Islamic State.
"It just confirmed what we've been talking about really for almost two years: There has been no real strategy," Rogers said.