WASHINGTON, Aug 9 (Reuters) - Republican U.S. Senator John McCain said on Saturday that President Barack Obama's limited military action against Islamic State militants in northern Iraq showed a "fundamental misunderstanding of the threat," and called for strikes against the group's positions in Syria, The New York Times reported.
McCain, a frequent critic of Obama's foreign policy including his handling of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, said the airstrikes authorized by the president are not enough to deal with a growing threat to the United States that he called "the richest, most powerful terrorist organization in history," the paper said.
Obama on Thursday authorized the U.S. military to make airdrops of humanitarian assistance to prevent what he called a potential "genocide" of the Yazidi religious sect in Iraq and conduct targeted strikes on Islamic State fighters who have been seizing territory in northern Iraq, a limited operation to protect Americans working in the country.
"The stated purpose - stated by the president - is to save American lives, not to stop ISIS, not to change the battlefield, not to stop ISIS from moving equipment farther into Syria to destroy the Free Syrian Army," McCain said, referring to the Islamic State by one of its acronyms.
"Obviously, the president of the United States does not appreciate this is not just a threat to American troops on the ground or even Iraq or Kurdistan. This is a threat to America," he said.
McCain, an influential Republican voice on foreign policy, said he would favor sending combat air controllers into Iraq to identify potential targets for airstrikes as well as rushing heavy military equipment into Arbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, the paper said.
He also said he believed the U.S. airstrikes must extend into "ISIS-controlled territory in Syria," the New York Times said.
The Islamic State, an al Qaeda offshoot, controls large parts of Syria and northern Iraq. It has been one of an array of forces fighting the government of President Bashar al-Assad in Syria's three-year-old civil war, but has also clashed with other anti-Assad forces.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights estimates that the Islamic State controls about 35 percent of Syrian territory, although much of that is desert.
McCain said the Islamic State "has erased the boundary between Iraq and Syria," yet Obama "has failed so far to even mention Syria," according to The New York Times, which said the Arizona senator was speaking by telephone from Vietnam. (Reporting by the Washington Breaking News Team, editing by G Crosse)