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September 25, 2017

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Obama backs surveillance over Syria

While the White House said Monday that Obama has not approved military action inside Syria, additional intelligence on the militants would likely be necessary before he could take that step. Pentagon officials have been drafting potential options for the president, including airstrikes.

One official said the administration has a need for reliable intelligence from Syria and called the surveillance flights an important avenue for obtaining data.

The U.S. began launching strikes against the Islamic State inside Iraq earlier this month, with Obama citing the threat to American personnel in the country and a humanitarian crisis in the north as his rationale. Top Pentagon officials have said the only way the threat from the militants can be fully eliminated is to go after the group inside neighboring Syria as well.

Obama has long resisted taking military action in Syria, a step that would plunge the U.S. into a country ravaged by an intractable civil war. However, the president's calculus appears to have shifted since the Islamic State announced last week that it had murdered American journalist James Foley, who was held hostage in Syria. The group is also threatening to kill other U.S. citizens being held by the extremists in Syria.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Monday that Obama has demonstrated his willingness to order military action when necessary to protect American citizens.

"That is true without regard to international boundaries," he said.

The White House would not comment on Obama's decision to authorize surveillance flights over Syria.

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