Obama Instructs National Security Team to Accelerate Fight Against IS


U.S. President Barack Obama says although the U.S.-led effort to combat Islamic State has made progress, the fight “remains difficult” and he has instructed his security team to ramp up efforts.

“This is a tough situation with a lot of moving parts,” Obama said after meeting with top security officials at the State Department on Thursday.

Obama was updated on efforts to counter Islamic State during a meeting with senior officials from the White House, State Department, intelligence community, Defense Department and Treasury Department. It is the latest in a series of updates on the multi-pronged U.S. campaign to counter Islamic State.

“The situation in Iraq and Syria is one of the most complex the world has seen in recent times,” said Obama.

However, after intensifying efforts that were yielding results in the last few months, the president said the U.S. had succeeded in “squeezing” Islamic State’s core in Iraq and Syria.

Accelerating ‘On All Fronts’

Obama said the U.S. will also continue efforts to push back Islamic State as it reaches beyond Iraq and Syria into countries where there is political chaos and turmoil, such as in Libya.

“Today I directed my team to continue accelerating this campaign on all fronts,” Obama said.

President Barack Obama hosts a meeting of his National Security Council (NSC) at the State Department in Washington, Feb. 25, 2016.

In recent months the intensification effort has included the use of additional U.S. special expeditionary forces to carry out raids, free hostages, capture IS leaders and gather intelligence.

The flow of foreign fighters to Syria is slowing, Islamic State is having a difficult time replenishing its ranks, morale sinking and civilians are rejecting them, he said. “They’re not winning over hearts and mind and they’re under sever pressure.”

Critical to the effort, Obama said, is the implementation of a cease-fire agreement he reached with Russian President Vladimir Putin earlier this week. The U.S. has said the fighting in Syria between troops loyal to President Bashar al-Assad and rebels fighting to oust him has allowed Islamic State to flourish amid the chaos and instability.

But Obama seems cautious about whether the cease-fire deal will hold up.

“If implemented, and that’s a significant if, this cessation could reduce the violence and get more food and aid to Syrians who are suffering and desperately needed. It could save lives.”

The White House has accused Putin of fueling the civil war by helping to prop up the Assad regime with airstrikes targeting opposition rebels.

The cessation agreement calls for an end to attacks and aerial bombardment and for the flow of humanitarian aid to areas under siege.

“A lot of that is going to depend on whether the Syrian regime, Russia, and their allies live up to their commitments,” Obama said. “The coming days will be critical, and the world will be watching.”

Syrian ‘Slaughter’ Continues

Earlier Thursday, lawmakers questioned Secretary of State John Kerry repeatedly about U.S. efforts to help end the fighting and humanitarian crisis in Syria during a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing.

He said the “slaughter” of innocent people was still occurring in Syria, where bombs had been dropped on hospitals and schools.

“That has obviously occurred which is why we have pushed so hard to try to get a cessation of hostilities,” said Kerry.

The cease-fire plan is part of a broader effort, backed by the U.S. and other members of the International Syria Support Group, to help foster a political transition that could help stabilize Syria and decrease threats from Islamic State and other terrorist groups.

On the fight against IS, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said the militant group’s estimated strength now exceeds that globally of al-Qaida.

“ISIL, including its eight established and several more emerging branches, has become the preeminent global terrorist threat,” Clapper told the House Intelligence Committee on Worldwide Threats.