Britain Ups Terror Threat Level from 'Substantial' to 'Severe'

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest tries to clarify president's "strategy" comment on ISIS.
44:59 | 08/29/14

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Transcript for Britain Ups Terror Threat Level from 'Substantial' to 'Severe'
The threat we faced a tumbled from the poisoned his narrative all Islamist extremist. Wherever -- -- -- a group and state wherever there is a simple goal when ever there is. Grieve its wherever that is I'm governed space you see the Islamist extremist agenda. Being pushed further cost that is why we have problems in Somalia without problems -- also Nigeria -- And indeed Syria Iran the source of the problem. Is the extremists and that is blocking the right to protect it's easy to identify the problem -- face the poisonous is -- -- extremist narrative. And then you have to take you don't every way kids including. I'm -- -- Nona in Washington with more now on Britain's decision to up its terror threat level. And the situation in Iraq and Syria we're joined live by ABC news White House correspondent Jim -- -- Jim we were just listening very few British prime minister David Cameron. At his press conference quite a contrast to President Obama -- news conference yesterday. Prime minister cameras saying that he expects years even decades of conflict with extremists. Were you surprised at how he described that threat. I don't think his words are much different than President Obama is I think the tone was quite different. The president came here yesterday and was. Determined to calm things down two I'm sure people and to let congress know that he was not planning. To send any strikes in the air strikes and to Syria over the weekend. So his tone was different his tone was to calm down but the president has said. That the problem with -- eyesore crisis. Is one that's gonna take a long time to solve its going to be a long battle and that it's not going to be -- very quickly. When not -- military alone that's what the president Obama's. Main cases is that he says this is not a military question alone that the need allies. The media allies to get together -- need to -- -- diplomatic. And political effort as well as the military effort. And Jim just as you mentioned there a difference in tone to president Obama's news conference a bit more reserved. During that news conference yesterday he was asked about consulting the house and senate about air strikes and let's take a listen here to his reply. As our strategy develops. We will continue to consult with congress and I do think it'll be important for congress to weigh in and were. -- -- -- consultation with congress. Continue to develop so that. And the American people -- part of the debate. But I don't wanna put the court. Before the horse we don't have a strategy. Yet I think what I've seen and in some of the news reports. Suggests that folks are getting old. Further ahead. Where we're -- I'm currently are. So we've definitely heard a big response from critics about one of the phrases the president said there we don't have a strategy yet. I can you play we'll learn more about the criticism that you're hearing and how -- the White House pushing back against that. Well I think even here at the White House who would concede that that conceded that was not a good choice of words to say that they don't have a strategy. And of course that was in fact seized upon by the opposition by the Republican Party. Mostly who said that that this is this is in fact true that the White House doesn't have a strategy for dealing with -- -- what the president was talking about -- what. His -- -- pushed back on this as the president was talking about. That airstrikes in Syria a military response and Syria. And that they are still meeting his generals are still a developing a strategy if they want to see if that is going to be effective and to -- how to pull that off. So he was saying that he's not gonna notify congress. Of any kind of military strikes. In Syria until they've decided and have a plan for that and as of now they don't connect it was a National Security Council meeting. Last night with the president. Convened and they were talking about that very thing. Among others to see if whether or not that is the strategy they want to have. And if that's the -- and with the details no no strategy and that strategy so there is a strategy. About the dealing with -- in general. He -- he articulated it yesterday. That is political and diplomatic as well as perhaps some military strategy especially in Iraq right now where yesterday. The United States bombed. Prices positions five times destroyed some humvees and some military equipment there so there is a military strategy on the Iraq side of the border. As of now the president said there is no concrete plan to do anything militarily on the Syrian side of the border. And -- asked prime minister David Cameron spoke there was lot of work Twitter reaction somewhere applauding him. For having what they believe is -- more defined plan. But do you really see that and -- -- British star -- at all from American actions in Iraq or Syria. Well again I think this -- a matter tone I think that the group that in fact. Prime minister. Britain was did strike a more urgent tone. The new unit -- the president of the United States that I think that was there was a reason for that the president here. Was believing that it believes that. The press and some pundits. Have gotten ahead of things and have because the United States has started surveillance. Military surveillance over Syria. Looking at possible targets looking at those type of things that they jumped ahead and decided on their own that that the next step was going to be. A military strike in Syria very quickly. The president came out to tamp that down. He was camping that down and saying that this is not gonna happen immediately that they -- still convening and still making plans that there are no plans for that. So I think there's a difference in tone. But. I -- tell -- I don't think -- gonna do anything unilaterally I think Britain is going to consult with the United States the president did talk with Germany yesterday about this. And other things so I think -- the president and and and the prime minister are likely on the same page. On what kind of response crisis will be. Didn't US and Britain also share a certain problem and that -- citizens leaving the country. About 500 from Britain and here in the US nearly a dozen from the Twin Cities alone. Then going to fight for crisis in Iraq and Syria what is cameras plan to deal with this how does the White House plan to address this. -- that there are the specific plans other than there's a lot of intelligence that's going on I know that in Britain. There's incredible intelligence intelligence. In the communities in trying to find. Places where we've seen it ourselves we've seen. British intelligence -- forces. And police raid. Hotspots in there in their own communities. And areas where militants the militants have -- gathered. In the United States I think that there is going to be some kind of there are police there's police actions going on there are police investigations going on in there is a real concern. That in fact this is this is what's happening. And some of our cities that have large populations. That are disenfranchised in our. And for some reason are looking to have to go to the mideast and and cause us problems. Jim -- prime minister David Cameron it was clear in stating. That this fight against ice -- was not the result of the 2003 US invasion of Iraq or the Afghan war. But it is not really accurate or fair to put up a wall. Between those wars and this fight against crisis. Well. You know that the that's a that's a big question. -- -- I think that that. And is to be debated on both sides it it'd be -- Certainly here at the White House -- vote the White House so many believe. That in fact. The problems we're seeing in Iraq now are in fact. Result of our actions in Iraq. Early on that invading Iraq and and causing the problems that have been there I think we've I think that many believe that's the case. He wet weather and that's not a universal. Believe certainly on the on the Republican side is a lot of defense. What happened. Back and when -- United States invaded Iraq and the reasons for it and that it got rid of Saddam Hussein was a bad guy. The problem that the -- that the United States is facing in the world is facing is that there are now not clear lines in any of these battles. Certainly Syria illustrates that the problem with Syria of course is the United States helps. Get -- devices. That could help. Could help aside the president of Syria who the United States has already said they don't want -- help and in fact. -- have but the gone on the record saying it doesn't have legitimacy. And we'll never ruled Syria began. As a whole. So -- -- the box here -- they help by assists. If they don't do anyway nicest -- overthrow aside in the we have. Them in control of Syria if you get if the United States and helps. Bomb crisis in Syria does that help aside and do we help him a dictator who is gassed his own people is that going to be is that something that's. Worthwhile to do so certainly there's no real good answers. That anybody is found about dealing with Syria and that's one of the reasons why. The president is being we'll tell you that he's being very deliberate and careful. This. ABC news White House correspondent Jim -- alive and Washington thank you so much Jim for joining us. Through Press Secretary Josh Earnest is taking questions at this time. -- I would say that I contemplated it. Seemed like my field too much. Greater -- get started with us more serious questions that yet. CC -- -- here right here following announcement. Well -- I can -- confirm that the British government has raised its domestic threat level from substantial to severe. Senior White House officials and other national security officials in the administration. I had been in touch with their British counterparts about this -- -- to the British for the explanation. About why they had made this determination in terms of their own terror threat level. I do understand that they have that it generally speaking it's related to -- that threat posed by foreign fighters that are. That have western passports that have British passports. That are fighting alongside I style in Syria. -- this is a threat that United States has been focused on we've been coordinating closely with our allies. Both the brits but others in Europe. About countering this threat and mitigating it. We've been doing that by cooperating through law enforcement channels through national security channels but also through intelligence channels as well. As a relates to the United States national terror alert system. I don't anticipate at this point that there are. That there's a plan to change. That level but those are official announcements that are made by the Department of Homeland Security -- free to them for an official determination on it but it's my understanding right now. -- that there are no plans to change. Frustration belief that the Islamic militants currently. Rat pack pack. But the concern noted that we have articulated is not dissimilar from the threat that the British. Had identified and acted on today. -- number of months now we have been monitoring those individuals that have western passports that are citizens of western countries and the United States. Or or in Europe. Who have made the decision to travel to Syria or that broader region taken up arms alongside -- -- They pose a threat because they are. It received military training. They are now battle hardened and they've demonstrated a willingness to risk their lives for their costs. But those individuals as I mentioned have western passports. And it does give them some freedom of movement. That could allow them to come back to the west. And carry out acts of violence. That is why the United States in conjunction with our partners. -- -- other allied countries of ours I have been monitoring the situation have been tracking. Or at least monitoring the movements these individuals. Did you Interpol is involved in this effort there are also countries in the region that had been supportive. The effort to the United States and our allies have to monitor the situation. The united -- is always. Making adjustments. To counter terrorism measures. -- some of those measures are seen in some of those currency we -- with this typically when it comes to aviation security. But it is true. As it relates to. -- other aspects of our nation's Homeland Security system. So this is a threat that we are monitoring -- one that we have been focused on for quite some time. It has been the focus of intensive discussions inside the administration it's also been the focus of intensive discussions. With government. In the region and around the world. -- my -- changed his travel plans today. The White House tonight is music does and you do it here. I did it is not specifically related to any sort of -- assessment or change in the terror threat that's currently. Emanating from that region of the world. Merely this is an opportunity for the president when he saw his schedule. Decided that he'd rather just make late evening flight back here home to the White House to sleep in his own bed. Do little worked -- with -- time of the Stanley in the travel. Back to back to New York tomorrow evening to attend a private event. Works a plan to meet five communities. Are pressing problem. I don't know at this point of any specific meetings but if there are meeting to take place that we can tell you about -- -- You can see. That the president yesterday signal that he's nowhere near a decision on air strikes in Syria and factions. This -- is good thing. I think the president was pretty explicit. That he is determined. To make sure. That every element of his national security. Strategy. Is thought for a the strategy that he's laid out is multifaceted. It includes a lot of important diplomatic work. Both with the Iraqi Government but also with governments in the region it includes some military work separate from active kinetic strikes. But military work that's focused on offering support to the Kurdish and Iraqi Security Forces. There's a lot of there's an important military to military relationship there. And one that we're gonna continue to -- to cultivate. But military action. By the United States is also part of -- -- what is also important component of the strategy. The president has authorize military action in -- -- in Iraq. And there those -- military actions. Have produced some positive results just in the last few weeks because. American military action we averted a humanitarian disaster -- -- and her. Because of military action in support of Kurdish Iraqi Security Forces. We were able to blunt the rapid advance on her -- that's important because as American Consulate in revealed. An American citizens American personnel. We're working in her -- On a range of functions including closely coordinating with the Iraqi -- -- security forces. There is also important work that was done by united states military. To conduct strikes in support of Iraqi -- security forces to retake the Mosul dam that's a piece of critical infrastructure in Iraq. So we've already demonstrated in the presents are demonstrated a willingness to order military action strikes in Iraq. Those were part of -- thought through strategy. And -- to -- safeguard. American citizens who were in Iraq. And the president is wants to be similarly rigorous. As we think through other aspects of our strategy that could include military action there are some who have called for. The president to take action. Or order military action. In Syria. That pentagon. Is developing plans. Or military options for the president to consider. If he decides that it's necessary to do so. But at this point the president hasn't made any decisions and hasn't ordered any military action in -- but if he does take that step it will be. One that is carefully considered. One that is deliberately arrived -- And ones that will. Be made in close consultation with -- -- converse -- I came back to comment we don't have a strategy. Was talking about strategy for -- crisis in Syria. But having said that -- like to have that one back. Well -- -- I want to clarify one thing of what -- described the the president was talking specifically about military options. For countering crisis in Syria they're number of things we've already done. Two as it relates the broader situation in Syria. To confront some of the challenges there -- United States as we discussed many times in this room is the largest single donor humanitarian aid. Two. Syria in terms of dealing with the a terrible humanitarian situation has been caused by the violence in Syria we've seen significant numbers millions of people have been displaced displaced by the violence there. By the United States has been engaged in an effort to. Support the moderate Syrian opposition. Their range of ways in which that support is provided there's also some diplomatic support has been provided to them. So there are already has been some work underway in Syria. To try to address some of the challenges there. But the president was candid about the fact that the Pentagon and is still are reviewing options that may be available -- him. Military options that may be available to him to counter -- -- militarily in Syria but when you're the president works better. And just getting back that first question disease he wished he had articulated that. That -- different. Well Jim he -- that's a very specific question. And he was asked a question about it. -- you regularly finish this is important issue that's very specific question about whether or not the president would seek a congressional authorization before ordering any sort of military. The military action in Syria and the point the president made was that that's that's -- in the cart before the horse the president hasn't yet laid out his specific plan. For military action in Syria and the reason for that is simply that the Pentagon is still developing that plan and he's still reviewing. And it would be putting the cart before the horse. To talk about what sort of congressional authorization would be required for planet hasn't been put in Valencia. Laborer for the fact that you came out so quickly it can and try to explain president had to say suggest that. What he said it was was not what he intended to say. -- are -- saying it does the rest of -- took the wrong -- well I think. Penguins yet either you know remain the reaction that we had at the White House yesterday was not in response of the president's comments. It's in response to the -- is being reported and I don't mean that to sound as a as a criticism of you all doing her job he loved and important job to him. But we do believe -- it's important for people both you and your readers and viewers to understand what message the president was trying to communicate. And what strategy I he has already laid out. For confronting IS -- and what decisions remain to be made as it relates to military options that are available to him in serious -- again that is not a critique of the media is just an observation. That we didn't listen to the president's news conference and go formulate a strategy for. Responding. We listen to the president's news conference watched your reporting and recognize. That. If we wanted to people -- had a very clear understanding. Of what the president is trying to communicate that we needed to engaging directly to do that and that's who we tried to -- and. Getting back to go prime minister Cameron's comments. He said that this is not support conflict. Thousands of miles from home -- easy to take a tougher tone. With respect diocese and the president did yesterday and a lot of people observe that the president's comments yesterday were not totally in line or insane with. The urgency expressed by secretary hazel. Joint chiefs chairman Dempsey. Who described it as. -- it's beyond anything we've ever seen. Talking about crisis is -- can we take care of the -- is probably not dealing with Syria. What do you make is the president on the same page uses. As his -- it comes to dealing. Well I think the more important observation -- is that the cabinet is on the same page as the commander in chief. And I am fully confident that -- they. Inside the situation -- concerts frightened -- immediately answered. I don't think debate is the way that I would describe it and I'm not gonna get to be in a position of Reid DU prevented detailed regatta of a private meeting between the president and his National Security Council but. You you have been hey you've had the opportunity to observe the president's leadership style and you recognize that the president has interest in hearing the unvarnished assessment. Of his senior advisors that's true when he's talking to. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and secretary of defense about our military strategy it's also truly sucked into his Press Secretary about our political strategy or communication strategy. So the president is interest in eliciting the unvarnished opinion of everybody it's that -- are on the table. And it would be particularly helpful to the president states if everybody sitting around a table had exactly the same opinion very exactly the same perspective on -- So the president incest and again on every -- meaning but I am in position to to convey to you. That the president is is determined to get the unvarnished. Assessment. Of the of the professionals who -- -- table meet with him. As he makes important decisions but I I have no doubt and if you if you do that you should go ask each one of them. About whether not there on the same page as the commander in chief I am confident that they are. Conveyed to the gulf countries that he hasn't seen me before and what makes the president now coffee and that this Sunni neighbors of Iraq and Syria would behave differently. Knowing that he contributed to the creation of its -- like crisis. And others through funding money and arms to Syria for won't -- You -- I think the president alluded to this a little bit yesterday when he was document this subject. He is is very clearly. In the interest. Of Iraq's. And Syria's neighbors. Even those Sunni countries. To not have a violent. Extremist organization wreaking Havoc in their neighborhood it's destabilizing. And opposes a pretty direct threat to those countries. So it is in their interest as never before. For them to work in partnership with other countries in the region and -- other interest countries -- -- the -- like the United States to counter that threat. -- to mitigate -- destabilizing impact. Of those violent activities that we've seen. Perpetrated by IS -- That will be part of of the message -- that will be the topic of discussion. That the secretary of state will carry with -- when he goes to the region. You know I'm sure that they'll at least one way or another the State Department officials were traveling with the secretary will read out those meetings. So we want to get ahead of what discussions look like but. It is clear that the backdrop for those conversations. Is that be clear interest of these governments. Has in the last several weeks been crystallized. -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- And the establishment of an Islamic state in Iraq. Constituted a direct national threat to United States. Well I didn't see all of prime minister Cameron's remarks what that the aspect of his remarks that I did see. Was the explanation put forward by his government about why they decided to change their their terror threat level. And that's basically it specifically was related to the threat. That. Is posed by individuals with western passports that have been fighting alongside IS IL -- -- could. Using their passports travel back to the west in -- acts of violence in the west and so I know that there are a number of security. Changes are changes in their nation's security posture that they put in place the United States is regularly. Monitoring our security posture were also working very closely with our allies with the law enforcement level as well as -- national security level. But to try to mitigate this threat it's and in that we've been engaged in for quite some time -- -- efforts continue to this day in this hour. -- Mike. -- Ukraine. The British government -- excessive speed -- talks today. Is pressing years -- and allies to. -- Russia from the split. -- network which is that important. Financial network. Don't be a significant escalation financial sanctions against -- -- Does the US government -- of British government's view on this -- you also. Trying to do something like that. -- network and damage here financial life. I. I haven't seen those reports Mike either -- to the Treasury Department -- can talk about. What sort of financial tools aren't able to the United States and our allies as we consider efforts to impose additional economic costs on Russia for their actions including you can. Are you looking to step up -- ahead sanctions. That moment. I think we have to another level when I suspect -- as well as the speaking as a general matter based on Russia's continue to conduct in Ukraine. Based on their continued effort. To escalate that situation militarily we've seen the of the continued movement. Equipment immaterial. Across the border from Russia into Ukraine -- seemed pretty. Definitive reports. That Russian troops have moved across the border and are now firing on Ukrainian military positions so we have seen. Rush interfere in Ukraine in ways that the international community is completely unwilling to tolerate. And as a result of that it does put Russia at risk. Facing additional. Economic costs that can be imposed. By the United States in concert with our -- The specific tactic. Would you expect to see further steps from the United States to isolate Russia from financials that. Well -- -- -- the president is traveling to. To Europe next week he'll have the opportunity to meet with a number of our NATO allies. And the situation in Ukraine is a prominent item on the agenda. And I'm confident that there will be serious discussions. About imposing additional economic costs on Russian. A major Josh. And Ukraine is it an invasion and the Russians. Well what we have seen from the Russians is consistent with the kind of behavior that we've seen with from them for many months now. We've seen this week -- -- ample intelligence. Social media reporting. To indicate that they're -- -- Secretary General call -- question regulars in the Ukraine. With military equipment. Is that an invasion is quote evidence it has been presented by NATO is compelling. And it does indicate that Russia is continuing to do the kinds of things using their military might. To further destabilize the situation in. Ukraine what we have asked the call on the Russians to do is actually use their influence in Ukraine to try to. Does in -- plane which matter in this case if there's something it is reluctant. Use those words to describe what appears to be happening. Was. High speed right I think we've been very clear about describing what exactly happened as the president did when he was asked this question yesterday. And we have been for many months as -- Russian military has allowed. Weapons -- material be transferred across the border as the work Russian military has fired on Ukrainian military positions. As. He Russian military is even put boots on the ground in Ukraine. We have regularly -- evidence to indicate what exactly is happening despite the protestations. The Russian government that for some reason would have us all believe otherwise. The fact is those denials are completely. Without any credibility. And we we've been pretty candid. That I think mentioned earlier that that his government is monitoring movements of these individuals meaning Americans who have. Going into serious -- -- -- price. Does the decision so far not to increased threat level here indicate that there is a higher degree of confidence. With the -- -- -- intelligence and monitor these people. In the women's British you know. Well -- -- I don't -- -- position of assessing sort of confidence or success of an ongoing intelligence. A price its -- com. -- -- -- -- -- visibility. We feel. -- -- -- yet again that -- assessment of -- of our intelligence capabilities that I don't want to venture from here but let me let me say this. The United States on our own right now is dedicating significant resources and time and attention. Two. Mitigating this threat. We are also in addition to that working very closely with other interest -- parties including the British. To try to counter this threat to monitor these individuals and mitigate does the threat of violence that -- May pose to. Western interests. And that is some in the continues were working very closely with the with the British on this I mean one thing that has been observed publicly that I would -- publicly from here. I think is that. The you part of the British concern is that there is according to published reports. A relatively large number. Individuals with British passports who have gone. To the region to fight alongside. ISI -- The publish reports as they relate the number of Americans who -- there is somewhat lower. The president -- -- business strategies here is that we can -- Highest. Military. From behind -- he -- that. And -- at the school. Your strategy given it -- -- their base of operations might be there -- Capital -- -- -- -- -- -- -- Well Paula -- a couple things about that one of the things that the president said in now famous statement is that -- get the recipients. So the department defense is hard at work. On developing some military options for the president in Syria now whether the president chooses to. Take advantage when those options whether the president orders -- those options. Remains to be seen. But these are plans that are being developed. The president does have a lot of confidence in his in the military apparatus to develop some solid plans for him. But it any sort of strike or military action that he workers will be a if ordered will be a component of a broader strategy for defeating IS IL. And mitigating the threat that they pose to the United States into western interests and that will all be done. Will you with with our partners. Both in the Iraqi Government. And the governments in the region and with countries around the world this will be a joint effort now we say one thing about what you said because it's important. The question. In the mind of the president. It is more complicated. In some ways even bigger. Then and does the United States in conjunction with our allies have the capability. To route. As he described it by -- -- the real question is how do we sustainably. Secure. -- mail is routed. That they can't sprout back up in and make significant gains in Iraq or anywhere else for that matter. And that is why the strategy that the -- has put Ford has at the top of that list. A unified successful sophisticated. Integrated Iraqi Government they can unite that country to face the threat that's posed by ISI now. And to ensure that the Iraqi People can take -- their take responsibility themselves. For the security situation their country that ultimately is how we will be in a position to deny. ISI LV ability to create a safe haven where -- -- where they could threaten other countries in the region or eventually even other countries -- -- the -- Stanton and I appreciate saying it is there any risk -- this presidency. -- complexity. And it become an excuse for paralysis because people look at the speech today. If you solve this militarily than a lot of these other issues can be addressed -- can address these other issues. Devices presents an ongoing expanding. -- and military threat. -- ever larger. Pockets of space in Iraq and Syria need just this week they took four runs in an air base. Each and every one of the more tactically operationally sophisticated. Than the one -- -- in the fourth one was successful. -- -- showed a pension to a death on the battlefield. Use and rewards this -- techniques and gain space they believe are important. To their overall territorial objectives and there would be those who would say. Yes all these other complex issues but the military issue before you now. And you better deal with the -- case -- Well that's why the president has been pretty clear about the idea that these things need to move together. Right and that's why the president as the Iraqis had made progress. Informing the kind of inclusive and government that we called on them to adopt four and any number of months now. Has moved side by side with the president's plan to authorize military action in Iraq. -- I mentioned earlier that there are a number of things that have been accomplished by the Iraqi Security Forces with the important support. The US military -- so yes it does find -- will be limited and pose little risk of exposure to US force winds still a minor league but they didn't I don't think I would describe it that way -- incident they've been successful in supporting Iraqi Kurdish security forces as they retook the Mosul dam. I they've been supportive and successful in launching the offensive that was under way against her -- again that would not have been possible without. The American military intervention. But the president is also determined in the presence had this not into yesterday's appearance in the briefing room but in his previous appearance in the briefing room. And if he's the commander in chief of the united states military. And he will use that in support of Iraq's security forces to accomplish some of these goals but the president is not -- become the commander in chief of the Iraqi air force. -- that ultimately we need to have a situation where the Iraqi People Iraqi Government -- security forces can take responsibility for their own security. And United States and this president is willing to devote significant resources to assist in support. Iraq's government and Iraq's people as -- take that responsibility but we can't do it form and the presence not gonna try. Question this -- and that. Coalition and complex array of other issues -- Wednesday. Well. Accidentally me. If he takes the Iraqis do this we're not going to be the Iraqi air force. And the others partners in the region don't come anyways they're currently not coming and actually gets -- Mean what is the -- dynamic here -- defeating Italy. We're dealing with all these other things that make the complex over time. -- -- -- Making sure that no overriding dynamic here is making sure that -- -- the national security interest the United States of America protect. And that is always at the top of the president's agenda now that actually existing. What what it's consistent with that strategy. Requires. The Iraqi Government to do the right kinds of things that will -- that country to face down this threat the good news is they're making this -- -- -- -- speaking before -- three weeks ago a prime minister Maliki. Was still prime minister Maliki. He -- he isn't anymore he stepped aside. And Iraq does seem to be -- political leaders does seem do seem to be pursuing the kind of an inclusive governing agenda that we like to see them. -- pursue that it got more work to do -- -- the former cabinet with that work is is under way. We saw that Iraq's security forces and the Kurdish security forces were being overrun by -- -- forces. But thanks to the intervention of the united states military and the bravery and courage and service. Of American servicemen and women they've been able to turn the tide in support of Iraq. Security forces but never before I mention this earlier never before has it been so clearly in the interest of regional governments. Two. Combat. This violent extremist organization -- wreaking Havoc in their neighborhood that's not their interest so were optimistic about the success that we may have. In rallying them to this cause as well so you know the these we've made important progress on this over the last. Few weeks but make no mistake the president does not believe. That just -- pursuing a military strategy. Is a substitute for the more comprehensive strategy that will be required. To arrive in an enduring solution to this problem. -- In life. The traditional -- of -- there. This being liberty we can. Simple question. We're monitoring these Americans and westerners -- passports is there any evidence TSA. From the FB ICI AN SA any of our resources. Any of those people with the western passports have been on planes on the way back United States were already and -- What do the most detailed intelligence assessment that I can offer from here is that there's no evidence or indication right now. That I sale is actively plotting. To attack the United States home. That's true right now. That said is important that. We take the steps that are necessary and as a part of the president's comprehensive strategy. To deny them a safe haven that would give -- the kind of comfort that they would need to consider putting this kind tax. We also need to be very vigilant about the threat that is posed by foreign fighters individuals with. Western passports that have been fighting alongside lifestyle that may be considering returning to the west to carry out some acts of violence here too. So were vigilant about those things. And that is that is work that often takes place behind the scenes that as we calibrate our security posture. And have the kinds of discussions about intelligence and national security matters. That are important to the safety of -- -- America does things aren't often. Evidence to the American people but people can have some confidence. That the administration. And our national security professionals and our law enforcement professionals. Are very vigilant. About the threat that we face in this regard. To -- much news. Do we are we confident that we know. All of the Americans. The -- -- next to -- And we are confident we know they're still there -- not -- back well I can offer and an assessment about the depth of our intelligence. Matt. As it relates to the specific question I can tell you that this is a -- a challenge. That our national security apparatus -- intelligence apparatus is very focused on and it's why we're working so closely with our partners and allies around the globe but to mitigate this threat. -- -- -- -- And we have been listening in -- white house Press Secretary Josh Earnest daily briefing with reporters -- at the White House. He spent most of this and briefing speaking about Syria and basis operating in Syria and Iraq. And he received a number of questions from reporters asking for clarification about a statement the president made at the president's news conference yesterday a statement that. -- called the now famous statement. By the president that there is no strategy yet to confront crisis. -- said that the president was taking a very specific question at the time and that he was speaking specifically. About a military option for confronting -- in Syria that he was not speaking about it a more comprehensive strategy. And that the president was trying to be very candid that the Pentagon is still reviewing options for a military. Response in Syria and that the president was still reviewing those options. We want to stay on the topic of Syria the United Nations refugee agency. Says that Syria is the biggest humanitarian. Emergency of our era. And that the world response so far has fallen short of what's needed more than half of the 22 million people living in Syria have been forced to abandon their homes. And more than half of those uprooted have been children. BBC news -- Middle East correspondent Jim York reports. Dawn breaks -- one of the refugee settlements and Lebanon. But every new day here brings yet more desperate Syrians seeking refuge. Syria's neighbors have been swamped by -- tide of refugees that three years into the war just keeps on coming. All over Syria's neighbors and Lebanon Jordan Turkey and here inordinate Iraq becomes like this have sprung up. To try to cope with some of the three million refugees support out of Syria. Before everyone who's left there are two others who stay behind this place having lost their homes and many of those seeking refuge now have already been on the road a long time some of them displaced several times along the way. I am being -- More than once for sure. -- inside Syria before reaching safety in neighboring countries right now in Syria there are over six -- Syrian refugees and internally displaced. Ends -- at least one and then Syrian casualties have been forced out of their homes over three times. Closing shot on the -- and -- really appropriate and go back this man says from a people who worried that if they do something -- company. Violence between the rebels and the regime continues to -- the country apart. Now the as the fresh complication of the self styled Islamic state militants taking over large parts of the north and east. Monitoring prisoners have -- them to Britain reign of terror. Given bowl left the prospects for the tide of refugees being reversed anytime soon look very slim. Should -- BBC news in Northern Iraq. And we want to let you know that the white house press briefing continues at this time as well as the Pentagon briefing. You can watch those live on abcnews.com. You can also keep up with the story in real time by downloading the ABC news -- and starring this story for exclusive updates on the go. For now I'm -- -- -- in Washington.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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