WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama used a visit to the Pentagon today Monday to reiterate that his administration remains focused on fighting the Islamic State group on multiple fronts, but revealed little new information about how that battle will be waged going forward.
Flanked by top military advisers, including Secretary of Defense Ash Carter, Obama recommitted to the existing strategy and stated that the US is hitting the militant group, commonly known as ISIS or ISIL, "harder than ever" in Syria and Iraq.
"As we squeeze its heart, we'll make it harder for ISIL to pump its terror and propaganda to the rest of the world," Obama said of the strikes at ISIL's strongholds in those two nations.
He also reiterated statements from the Pentagon that ISIL has lost the ability to mass openly without being destroyed, pointing to the fact the group has not launched a successful large-scale offensive operation since the summer.
Much of the president’s comments were echoes of his Dec. 6 nationwide address, following the shootings attacks in San Bernardino, California. The government believes the shooters were radicalized, although not directly coordinating with ISIL.
Obama did use the comments to put public pressure on the Gulf nations to step up their contributions against ISIL, and noted that Carter is leaving this afternoon for the region and a series of high-level meetings with Gulf leadership. The White House has also dispatched Secretary of State John Kerry to Russia to take part in talks there about finding a political situation to the Syrian civil war, and has directed the Department of Homeland Security to update its alert system.
In an exclusive op-ed for Defense News this week, Carter pledged to deliver a "lasting defeat" to the militant group, emphasizing how the Pentagon has "significantly accelerated our campaign against ISIL"
Operations against ISIL began in Iraq on Aug. 8, of 2014, with Syrian operations beginning Sept. 22 of that year. According to figures from the Congressional Research Service, as of Dec. 1, US and coalition forces had used "combat aircraft, armed unmanned aerial vehicles, and sea-launched cruise missiles" to conduct more than 8,573 strikes against Islamic State targets in those two countries. As of Nov. 15, the most recent date the Pentagon released cost data, the total cost of operations is $5.2 billion, an average of $11 million a day.
This is the second visit to the Pentagon for Obama in 2015, following up on a July trip, which also focused on the ISIL issue.
Before exiting the briefing room, Obama praised the efforts of military personnel stationed worldwide, telling them that "on behalf of the American people, we want to say thank you. We are grateful and we are proud of everything you do."
Prior to his comments, Obama held a meeting with key security advisers. According to a White House pool report, the meeting involved the following:
- Vice President Joseph Biden
- John Kerry, Secretary of State, remotely
- Jacob Lew, Secretary of the Treasury
- Ashton Carter, Secretary of Defense
- Loretta Lynch, Attorney General
- Jeh Johnson, Secretary of Homeland Security
- Ambassador Samantha Power, Representative of the United States of America to the United Nations
- Denis McDonough, Chief of Staff
- Susan Rice, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
- Neil Eggleston, Assistant to the President and Counsel to the President
- Lisa Monaco, Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism
- Benjamin Rhodes, Assistant to the President and Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications and Speechwriting
- Avril Haines, Assistant to the President and Deputy National Security Advisor
- Antony Blinken, Deputy Secretary of State
- Robert Work, Deputy Secretary of Defense
- Christine Wormuth, Under Secretary of Defense for Policy
- James Comey, Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation
- Gen. Joseph Dunford, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
- Gen. Paul Selva, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
- Gen. Lloyd Austin, Commander, US Central Command
- Gen. Joseph Votel, Commander, US Special Operations Command
- Brett McGurk, Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL, remotely
- Michael Dempsey, Deputy Director of National Intelligence
- John Mulligan, Deputy Director of the National Counterterrorism Center
- David Cohen, Deputy Director, Central Intelligence Agency
- Adam Szubin, Acting Undersecretary of Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Crimes
- Suzanne George, Deputy Assistant to the President and Executive Secretary and Chief of Staff of the National Security Council
- Brian Egan, Deputy Assistant to the President and Deputy Counsel to the President
- Colin Kahl, Deputy Assistant to the President and National Security Advisor to the Vice President
- Salman Ahmed, Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Strategic Planning and Counselor to the National Security Advisor
- Jen Easterly, Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Counterterrorism
- Rob Malley, Special Assistant to the President and White House Coordinator for the Middle East, North Africa and the Gulf region
- Jeff Prescott, Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Iran, Iraq, Syria and the Gulf states
- Troy Thomas, Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Defense Policy and Strategy.