President Barack Obama Wednesday called on Congress to approve a $5 billion fund to fight terrorism around the world.
Speaking at the U.S. Military Academy's commencement, Obama said the $5 billion Counterterrorism Partnerships Fund would respond to terrorist threats internationally. The fund would also cover the expansion of Defense Department efforts, including intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and Special Operations activities, according to a White House statement.
Obama said the withdrawal of troops in Afghanistan has given the U.S. the ability to refocus its resources and to work with allies to address new, evolving terrorist threats.
"For the foreseeable future, the most direct threat to America and home and abroad remains terrorism," Obama said, adding that today's principle threat no longer comes from a central al-Qaeda hub, but is decentralized and has expanded to include affiliates that operate in countries across the world.
Obama said the fund would be used to train and build capacity with countries dealing with terrorism. He said the U.S. would support training efforts and peacekeeping forces in such nations as Yemen, Somalia, Libya and Mali.
The class of 2014 is the first class "to graduate since 9/11 who may not be sent into combat in Iraq or Afghanistan," Obama said.
Obama's remarks came just two days after he surprised troops at the Bagram Air Field in Afghanistan and announced that the last American soldier would leave the country at the end of 2016. Obama is planning on keeping a small force in Afghanistan to train security forces and conduct counterterrorism missions, but that decision is dependent upon President Karzai's successor signing a bilateral security agreement.
"I would betray my duty to you, and to the country we love, if I sent you into harm's way simply because I saw a problem somewhere in the world that needed fixing, or because I was worried about critics who think military intervention is the only way for America to avoid looking weak," Obama said, acknowledging four service-members who died as a result of the surge of forces in Afghanistan in 2009. "I am haunted by those deaths," he said.
Despite his lengthy address of the U.S. missions in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as his intention to fight terrorism in North Africa and the Middle East, Obama barely discussed the war in Syria that has killed more than 150,000 people.
"As frustrating as it is, there are no easy answers – no military solution that can eliminate the terrible suffering anytime soon," he said, standing by his decision not to put U.S. troops on the ground to end the conflict. He did announce, though, that the U.S. would step up efforts to support Syria's neighbors, incluing Jordanan, Lebanon, Turkey and Iraq, and would "ramp up support for those in the Syrian opposition who offer the best alternative to terrorists and a brutal dictator."
Wednesday marked the first day Syrians living outside the country could vote in the presidential elections, which President Bashar al-Assad is expected to win. Syrians living inside the country will head to the polls June 3 to cast their ballots.
The president's critics blame him for not intervening militarily in Syria and for not implementing tough measures to deal with Russia's annexation of Crimea. Obama's speech was designed to fight back against opponents of his foreign policy as he insisted that U.S. reliance on diplomacy over military force was working, using the conflict in Ukraine as an example.