Congress gets chance to probe Obama’s ISIS strategy

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WASHINGTON — This week offers Congress its best chance to get answers about President Barack Obama’s new Mideast counterterror strategy.

As lawmakers prepare for votes to arm and train Syrian rebels, an element of Obama’s plan to fight Islamic State militants, lawmakers are airing their concerns.

Leaders of both parties support 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 lawmakers 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.

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Some lawmakers want harder action against the Islamic State extremists who’ve conquered parts of Syria and Iraq. Others fear entanglement in a new war. 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 Obama’s authorization to use force without Congress’ consent.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel briefs House and Senate committees Tuesday and Thursday, and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey will also testify. Secretary of State John Kerry testifies before separate panels Wednesday and Thursday.

House Republicans are considering including the program 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 give lawmakers the 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 midterm elections.

BRADLEY KLAPPER, Associated Press

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