Islamic State leaders ‘cannot hide,’ Obama says after Pentagon briefing – USA TODAY
ARLINGTON, Va.Â â President Obama said he’s dispatchingÂ Secretary of Defense Ash Carter to the Middle East to help secure more help to fight the Islamic State, promising that his administration is “moving forward with a great sense of urgency” against the terrorist group.
“ISIL leaders cannot hide, and our message to them is simple: you are next,” Obama said from the Pentagon Â Monday following a strategy sessionÂ with top generals and national security advisers. Obama rattled off a litany of successes âÂ more bombs being dropped, more territory being regained,Â more allies joining the fight â but acknowledged that it’s not enough.
“All that said,Â we recognize that progress needs to happen faster,” he said.Â He said there’s a particular problem in urban areas controlled by the Islamic State, whereÂ militants are entrenched and often use civilians asÂ use human shields. “Even as were relentless we need to be smart, targeting ISIL surgically and with precision,” he said.
A key part of the U.S. strategy in recent weeks has been to attack the oil smuggling that gives the Islamic State muchÂ of its revenue.Â “As we squeeze its heart, we’ll make it harder for ISILÂ to pump its terror and propaganda into the rest of the world,” he said.
Obama’s comments followed a huddle in a Pentagon conference room withÂ Vice President Biden, four cabinet secretaries, four generals, and two dozen diplomats, law enforcement officials, intelligence leaders and White House advisers. Secretary of State John Kerry dialed in via secure teleconference, the White House said.
It wasÂ the first such meeting at the Pentagon since July 6, when Obama claimed progress in the fight against terrorism but also cautioned that it would be a “long term campaign.” He also warned againstÂ against “lone wolves” who might be inspired by the Islamic State to launch terrorist attacks, five months before radicalized husband-and-wife attackers killed 14 people at a holiday party in San Bernardino.
Obama has been increasingly vocal about terrorism since that Dec. 2 attack, but the White House has resisted calls to escalate the war through ground troops or a “carpet bombing” of the parts of Syria and Iraq held by Islamic State militants. Instead, the administration says it’s had success through more precise air strikes on oil smuggling, and by broadening the coalition of 65 nationsÂ providing aid to the effort.
The Obama administration will “move forward on all fronts” against terrorism, the president said Saturday in his weekly radio address.Â On Thursday, he’sÂ scheduled to visit the National Counterterrorism Center in McLean, Va. for a pre-holidayÂ threat briefing. Also this week the Department of Homeland Security is expected to roll out a new alert system.
The Pentagon is pointingÂ to initial signs that its strategy is paying dividends: Iraqi security forces, after months of bombing ISIL fighters and their strongholds in the western Iraqi city of Ramadi, Iraqi security forces have begun to retake the city. In northern Iraq, Kurdish peshmerga fighters last month seized the key cross-roads city of Sinjar, which links the ISIL-held cities of Raqqa in Syria and Mosul in Iraq.
There are also increasing examples of ISIL fighters defecting. Meanwhile, ISILâs top foreign fighters are being pressed into mundane checkpoint duty, according to U.S. commanders in Baghdad.
Despite those gains, ISIL continues to hold broad areas of Syria and Iraq and continues to field recruits as quickly as airstrikes kill them.
ISILâs staying power, in part, has prompted the Pentagon to deepen its involvement in Iraq and Syria. Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced earlier this month that a team of special operations troops will be sent to Iraq to conduct raids, free hostages and capture ISIL leaders. He also vowed to bolster a team of 50 special operators being sent to train local forces in Syria.
From the air, allied pilots are focusing more on attacking fleeting targets, such as tankers smuggling oil and ISIL troops moving in the desert. These so-called âdynamic targetsâ often carry a higher risk of civilian casualties, which the coalition takes pains to avoid.