Touting progress, Obama says Islamic State is losing ground

Author: Associated Press
Published: Updated:

WASHINGTON (AP) – President Barack Obama portrayed the U.S.-led coalition Monday as gaining ground against the Islamic State amid an expanded U.S. effort and ample signs of progress, but conceded more difficulties ahead in fighting what he described as a nimble and opportunistic enemy.

“We’re starting to see some progress,” the president said during a rare visit to the Pentagon, ticking off a list of towns in Iraq and Syria he said had been wrested from IS control in recent weeks.

Flanked by top military commanders, Obama also warned of the Islamic State’s efforts to recruit and inspire vulnerable people in the United States, and called on the American-Muslim community to “step up in terms of pushing back as hard as they can.” He said that while the U.S. is now better prepared to thwart large-scale terrorist attacks like 9/11, the threat from individual “lone wolves” or small terrorist cells has increased.

“We’re going to have to pick up our game to prevent these attacks,” Obama said.

The Pentagon visit followed a wave of weekend airstrikes by the U.S.-led coalition in eastern Syria – one of the most sustained aerial operations carried out in Syria to date, the U.S.-led coalition said. Obama pointed to those and other airstrikes as proof of an intensified U.S. effort to undermine the militant group’s base of operations and cut off their sources of funding.

Obama’s afternoon visit to the Pentagon offered a public display of presidential support for the military one day before Defense Secretary Ash Carter and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Martin Dempsey were expected to be grilled on Capitol Hill. Senate Armed Services Chairman John McCain, R-Ariz., has sharply criticized Obama for not doing more militarily to defeat IS, and said Monday that the U.S. is losing the battle as the extremist group continues to gain territory in Iraq and Syria.

“President Obama’s comments today reveal the disturbing degree of self-delusion that characterizes the administration’s campaign against ISIL,” McCain said.

Although the president said there were “no current plans” to send more U.S. troops to Iraq, he did not rule out that possibility in the future. Obama has vowed to keep American service members out of direct combat, but has sent more than 3,000 U.S. troops to advise and assist the beleaguered Iraqi military – including the deployment of 450 additional service members announced last month.

Efforts to train local forces in Iraq and Syria, however, have been slow to take shape. Last month, Obama acknowledged that the U.S. lacks a “complete strategy” for training Iraqi troops to carry out ground missions. And in Syria, fewer than 100 rebels are being trained by the U.S., far fewer than the goal of producing 5,400 fighters a year.

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