President Obama reacts after the U.S. Senate approved his plan for training and arming moderate Syrian rebels to battle Islamic State militants on Thursday, Sept. 18, 2014, at the White House in Washington, D.C.

President Obama reacts after the U.S. Senate approved his plan for training and arming moderate Syrian rebels to battle Islamic State militants on Thursday, Sept. 18, 2014, at the White House in Washington, D.C. (Olivier Douliery, Abaca Press/MCT)

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama said Tuesday that broad Arab support and participation in military strikes in Syria are key to the new U.S. war effort against the Islamic State.

Obama underscored the importance of 14 joint airstrikes conducted with Bahrain, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates overnight in Syria before boarding Marine One bound for the United Nations, where he was scheduled to make the case Wednesday for wider international cooperation against the extremist group.

The joint air campaign is a key part of the Obama administration effort announced this month to degrade and destroy the group after it seized large swaths of Syria and Iraq, declared a global Islamic “caliphate” and executed two American journalists as well as a British aid worker. The administration said it is also working to support opposition forces, cut of financing and stop the flow of foreign fighters.

“The strength of this coalition makes clear to the world this is not America’s fight alone,” Obama said. “Above all, the people and governments in the Middle East are rejecting ISIL and standing up for the peace and security that the people of the region and the world deserve.”

After about six weeks of U.S. airstrikes in Iraq, fighters, bombers and drones began dropping bombs on Raqqa and other Islamic State strongholds across the border in Syria.

The offensive also targeted a group of “seasoned al-Qaida operatives” that were planning an imminent attack on the United States, Obama said.

As the expanded air war swings into action, the president said he will continue to build on the coalition of more than 40 nations that have aligned against the Islamic State at the United Nations this week. He is scheduled to speak Wednesday about the terrorist threat posed by the group.

Also, the administration is moving ahead with plans to train and arm moderate Syrian rebels against the group, Obama said.

Congress voted last week to authorize Pentagon spending on the support through December and is likely to debate a much wider authorization for a long-term war effort when it returns from mid-term elections in November. The president has claimed he has the authority to bomb Syria targets without the approval of Congress, a position many lawmakers have conceded.

“The overall effort will take time, there will be challenges ahead, but we will do what is necessary to take the fight to this terrorist group,” Obama said.

Lawmakers applauded the expansion of the war effort Tuesday. The president has won widespread support on Capitol Hill for a long-term fight against the extremist group, though he still faces doubts — especially from across the aisle — about the details of his strategy.

Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, released a statement saying the Middle East coalition bombing targets in Syria is significant and historic and will be crucial to the long-term success of the war.

“While Western military force can help combat the poisonous ideology of groups such as ISIS, ultimately it is up to Muslim nations to resist and eliminate this poison,” Levin said.

Republicans, who have criticized Obama for not acting sooner to confront the Islamic State, were cautiously optimistic on Tuesday.

Rep. Ed Royce, R-Calif., called the air offensive a “long overdue” necessity that will shrink the group’s area of operation, but cautioned that the strikes were just the beginning of the war.

“While this initial attack will be a big psychological blow to the terrorist group, an air campaign will need to be major and sustained,” he said in a released statement.

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said defeating the Islamic State is essential to U.S. security and he supports the expansion of the fight into Syria, where the Islamic State seized vast territory amid the country’s devastating three-year civil war.

“I have argued for months,” Rubio said, “that President Obama has the authority to confront this threat to the United States wherever they seek refuge.” Twitter: @Travis_Tritten

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