WASHINGTON, July 7, 2015 – President Barack Obama discussed the strategy to degrade and ultimately destroy the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant with civilian and military leaders of his national security team at the Pentagon Monday.
The president spoke to the press following the meeting. He stressed that the strategy will take time to work, and that there is no substitute to working through indigenous forces in the region.
The strategy harnesses all elements of American power including military, intelligence, diplomatic, economic development, “and perhaps most importantly the power of our values,” Obama said.
The strategy envisions a long-term campaign, he said.
“ISIL is opportunistic, and it is nimble,” the president said. “In many places in Syria and Iraq, including urban areas, it’s dug in among innocent civilian populations. It will take time to root them out.”
American and coalition partners will help out with training and air support, but it must be local fighters who take the fight to the terrorists, he said.
“As with any military effort, there will be periods of progress but there are also going to be some setbacks, as we’ve seen with ISIL’s gains in Ramadi in Iraq and in central and southern Syria,” Obama said.
Still there has been progress, he noted, with more than 5,000 airstrikes that have taken out thousands of fighting positions, tanks, vehicles, bomb factories and training camps.
“We’ve eliminated thousands of fighters, including senior ISIL commanders,” the president said. “Over the past year we've seen that, when we have an effective partner on the ground, ISIL can be pushed back.”
“Altogether, ISIL has lost more than a quarter of the populated areas that it had seized in Iraq,” he said. “In Syria, ISIL lost at Kobani.
It's recently endured losses across northern Syria, including the key city of Tal Abyad, denying ISIL a vital supply route to Raqqa, its base of operations in Syria.”
The terror group is vulnerable and with help local forces can push back the extremists, Obama said.
“ISIL’s recent losses in both Syria and Iraq prove that ISIL can and will be defeated,” he said. “Indeed, we're intensifying our efforts against ISIL’s base in Syria. Our airstrikes will continue to target the oil and gas facilities that fund so much of their operations.”
The coalition – including many local nations – will continue to go after ISIL’s leadership and infrastructure in Syria, he said.
“Partnering with other countries, sharing more information, strengthening laws and border security allows us to work to stem the flow of foreign fighters to Syria as well as Iraq and to stem, obviously, the flow of those fighters back into our own countries,”
the president said. “This continues to be a challenge. And working together, all nations are going to need to do more. But we’re starting to see some progress.”
The United States is ramping up training and support of local forces, he said. “As I’ve said before, this aspect of our strategy was moving too slowly, but the fall of Ramadi has galvanized the Iraqi government,” Obama said.
In Anbar province, Iraq, more Sunni fighters are coming forward and they are being supplied. The president told his team to do more to train and equip anti-ISIL forces in Syria, too.
Again, the president called for a broader political effort in the region.
“Now all this said, our strategy recognizes that no amount of military force will end the terror that is ISIL unless it’s matched by a broader effort, political and economic, that addresses the underlying conditions that have allowed ISIL to gain traction,” he said.
“So as Iraqi cities and towns are liberated from ISIL, we’re working with Iraq and the United Nations to help communities rebuild the security, services and governance that they need, and we continue to support the efforts of Prime Minister (Haydar) Abadi to forge an inclusive and effective Iraqi government that unites all the people of Iraq, Shia, Sunni, Kurds and all minority communities,” the president said.
In Syria, Obama called for the Syrian people to unite against ISIL and begin the “political transition to a new government without Bashar al-Assad, a government that serves all Syrians.”
The national security team met in Defense Secretary Ash Carter’s conference room. Meeting with Obama and Carter were: Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work; Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Navy Adm. James Winnefeld, the vice chairman; Marcel Lettre, the acting undersecretary of defense for intelligence; Gen. Ray Odierno, Army chief of staff; Gen. Joseph Dunford, Commandant of the Marine Corps; Army Gen. Frank Grass, the chief of the National Guard Bureau; Army Gen. Lloyd Austin, the commander of U.S. Central Command; Army Gen. David Rodriguez, the commander of U.S. Africa Command; Army Gen. Joe Votel, the commander of U.S. Special Operations Command; Adm. Michelle Howard, the vice chief of naval operations; Gen. Larry Spencer, the Air Force vice chief of staff.
Also included were U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power, Deputy Secretary of State Tony Blinken, CIA Director John Brennan, White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, National Security Advisor Susan Rice and Lisa Monaco, assistant to the president for homeland security and counterterrorism.