Obama vows to help France hunt down perpetrators of Paris terror attacks – Washington Post

President Obama opened two days of talks with world leaders here Sunday by vowing to help France in “hunting down the perpetrators” of the terrorist attacks in Paris, but White House officials said the administration had no plans to alter its strategy to defeat the Islamic State.

Shortly after arriving at the Group of 20 summit, Obama met with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and later huddled informally with Russian President Vladi­mir Putin amid questions about how the international community will respond to the mass killings claimed by the radical Islamist group.

Senior aides said Obama agreed with French President Francois Hollande’s characterization of the attacks that killed at least 129 and wounded more than 350 as an “act of war.” They said the administration expects France and other countries to “intensify their efforts” in the fight, including airstrikes and aid to resistance forces inside Syria.

“The skies have been darkened by the horrific attacks that took place in Paris,” Obama said. Referring to a twin-bombing attack in Ankara, Turkey, last month that killed more than 100 people, he added that “the killing of innocent people based on a twisted ideology is not just an attack on France, not just an attack on Ankara, but an attack on the civilized world. . . . We stand in solidarity with them in hunting down the perpetrators of this crime and bringing them to justice.”

The highly coordinated assaults on several locations in Paris on Friday evening have shaken the gathering of global leaders here. The Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, claimed responsibility for the attacks, which intelligence officials said were carried out by three teams of terrorists affiliated with the extremist group. The world leaders were already planning to discuss strategies to combat the Islamist State, whose brutal campaign in Syria and Iraq has further destabilized the turbulent region.

But the attacks in the French capital could potentially change the calculus for French leaders and increase pressure on the Obama administration to take stronger actions to ensure that the Islamic State cannot attack Western targets beyond the battlefield in the Middle East.

Ben Rhodes, a deputy national security adviser to Obama, called the Paris attacks “outrageous,” but he emphasized that they did not change the White House’s reluctance to beef up the presence of U.S. troops on the ground in Syria.

“We don’t believe U.S. troops are the answer to the problem,” Rhodes told reporters at the summit. “The further introduction of U.S. troops to fully reengage in ground combat in the Middle East is not they way to deal with this challenge.”

Rhodes indicated that the United States would be pressing allies and partners to commit to more support for the strategy in place, including cutting supply lines to key cities in the region, targeting airstrikes at Islamic State leadership and providing arms and equipment to Kurdish fighters in northern Iraq.

“This attack can serve to create a greater sense of urgency in the international community behind supporting various element of the counter-ISIL campaign and support for a diplomatic resolution of the Syrian conflict,” Rhodes said.

Obama’s talks with Putin could also prove critical, as the Russian leader has pursued his own resolution to the conflict in Syria that has been at cross purposes with the United States’ agenda. While the White House has insisted that a resolution must include the relinquishment of power by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Russian warplanes have targeted rebel forces in a bid to help Assad remain in control.

White House officials did not immediately say what Obama and Putin discussed. Obama was joined in the talks, held in the lounge area of the main hotel conference center, by national security adviser Susan E. Rice, and Putin also was accompanied by an aide. Obama was seen on a conference video feed sitting forward in his chair and talking intently with Putin, who was also leaning in, as other world leaders milled about.

Aides said Obama also had added a bilateral meeting with Saudi King Salman to his schedule Sunday afternoon.

In his remarks, Obama referred several times to the Islamic State as “Daesh,” a derogatory Arabic term for the group. Secretary of State John F. Kerry also has begun using the term. The group, a particularly ruthless offshoot of al-Qaeda, has horrified the international community with its terror tactics, which have included beheadings, suicide bombings, massacres of prisoners and the use of captured women as sex slaves.

“We will redouble our efforts to work with other members of the coalition to bring about a peaceful [political] transition in Syria and eliminate Daesh as a force that has created so much pain and suffering for the people of Paris, Ankara and other parts of the globe,” Obama said.

Obama authorized expanded U.S. airstrikes into Syria last year to degrade the Islamic State, but he has been cautious about sending U.S. troops onto the battlefield. Efforts to train and equip moderate Syrian rebel forces to fight the Islamic State have largely failed, and Obama announced the deployment of 50 U.S. Special Operations forces to Syria in an advisory role.

Little progress, however, was reported out of the bilateral meeting between Obama and Erdogan. The administration has said it is prepared to launch much more intensive airstrikes along the remaining 60 to 70 miles of the Turkey-Syria border that is still under Islamic State control, once Turkey will commit to its own stepped-up participation.

The Turks have been holding out for U.S. agreement to make the area — extending from north of Aleppo, once Syria’s largest city, to the west bank of the Euphrates River — a no-fly zone. Such a move would ban bombing of opposition forces by Assad’s air force and allow a protected space for rebels to regroup and train and for Syrian refugees to gather in safety.

Rhodes said that “we continue to believe that a [no-fly zone] would not be the right resource allocation” for U.S. aircraft. The Pentagon has been reluctant to redirect aircraft from intensifying attacks against the Islamic State in central and eastern Syria, as would be required to protect a major swath of territory from Assad.

But even clearing the zone of the Islamic State, without following up with a no-fly zone, remains undecided. Rhodes said that “intensive operational discussions” were ongoing with Turkey to ensure the Turks are willing to provide necessary resources in terms of troops along their own side of the border and stepping up use of their own aircraft to intensify the strikes.

Erdogan said leaders at the G-20 gathering will take a “firm stance” against terrorism and issue a strong statement.

“We are confronted with a collective terrorism activity around the world,” he said.

Hollande, who had been scheduled to attend the summit, canceled his trip to remain in Paris and attend to the investigation and recovery from the carnage. He vowed to lead a “merciless” response to the perpetrators.

White House officials said Obama met with his National Security Council before leaving Washington on Saturday for the nine-hour flight to this resort town in southern Turkey. He was briefed on the latest intelligence about the attacks and on security precautions at U.S. embassies in Paris and other European cities, aides said.

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