As the war against the Islamic State spreads across the globe, President Obama says the U.S.-led coalition is hitting ISIS "harder than ever" and moving forward with its strategy with "a great sense of urgency."
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"As we squeeze its heart we’ll make it harder for ISIL to sell its propaganda to the world," Obama said following a meeting at the Pentagon with his national security council, using an alternative name for ISIS.
Obama added that his administration continually reassesses its strategy to fight ISIS, not only against trained extremists on the battlefields of Syria and Iraq, but also in the U.S. homeland against radicalized followers.
On Monday, President Obama also cited targeted airstrikes that have killed senior ISIS leaders and commanders “one by one”. He added, “The point is, ISIL leaders cannot hide and our next message to them is simple: You are next.”
He added: "Our partners on the ground are rooting ISIL out town by town, neighborhood by neighborhood, block by block. That is what this campaign is doing. We are hitting ISIL harder than ever."
President Obama took a rare trip to the Pentagon to chair a National Security Council meeting on the counter-ISIS campaign at the Pentagon, where he says he received an update from his national security team and discussed ways to enhance the U.S.-led coalition’s campaign to degrade and destroy ISIS.
Obama most recently visited the Pentagon July 6 for a similarly rare huddle after he was widely criticized at the time for admitting the United States did not yet have a plan to defeat ISIS. He later outlined a strategy, step-by-step, that he predicted would be a winning approach over time.
Defense Secretary Ash Carter told Congress in October that at the Pentagon meeting in July President Obama had pressed his national security team to come up with more options to intensify the war on ISIS.
Since then there has been an intensification of the air campaign and a focus on airstrikes targeting ISIS’s illicit oil operations that it uses to fund its operations. In November, American military aircraft dropped 3,271 munition on ISIS targets, making it the month with the most munition drops since the start of the air war 15 months ago.
“So far, ISIL has lost 40 percent of the populated areas it once controlled in Iraq, and it will lose more,” said Obama who cited progress by Iraqi forces attempting to retake Ramadi which was seized by ISIS in May. He also highlighted success on the ground in Syria where Kurdish and Arab forces in northern and northeastern Syria have pushed ISIS out of the border area with Turkey.
“ISIL has lost thousands of square miles of territory it once controlled in Syria, and it will lose more,” said Obama.
But a string of terrorist attacks from the Sinai Peninsula to Paris to San Bernardino, California, have similarly challenged the administration’s approach to countering the growing threat posed by ISIS, which demonstrated its capabilities to wreak havoc outside of Syria and Iraq just days after Obama said ISIS was contained.
But Russian military operations have complicated the coalition’s efforts to support moderate rebels fighting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Now, after his primetime Oval Office address fell flat, the president's Pentagon visit is part of a series of events coordinated to show the administration’s comprehensive approach to fighting terrorism in the days leading into the holiday season.
Later this week, Obama will visit the National Counterterrorism Center to learn more about its efforts to track terrorism. With a backdrop of Muslim immigration dominating the presidential campaign trail, the president will also attend a naturalization ceremony Tuesday at the National Archives.