President Obama at the CIA: ISIS on the defensive after a “bad few months”
ISIS is on the defensive after a “bad few months,” President Barack Obama claimed Wednesday during a rare trip to CIA headquarters outside Washington.
He said the “depraved” nature of the organization, also known as ISIL, only brings the world together and strengthens opposition to the group.
“Their barbarism only stiffens our unity and our determination to wipe this vile terrorist organization off the face of the earth,” Obama said. “Today on the ground in Syria and Iraq, ISIL is on the defensive. Our 66-member coalition, including Arab partners, is on the offensive.”
He added, “We have momentum and we intend to keep that momentum.”
Obama cited coalition efforts to interrupt key supply routes between cities in Syria and Iraq as examples of forward progress. He also noted successful U.S. missions to take out ISIS leaders, which he said would continue in the coming months.
“For ISIL’s leadership, it has been a bad few months,” Obama said. “Every day, ISIL leaders wake up and understand it could be their last.”
Obama spoke in the main lobby of the CIA compound in Langley, Virginia, where he’d previously visited only twice, both in his first term. Before his remarks he convened a meeting with top national security officials centered on ISIS.
The White House said Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State John Kerry and National Security Adviser Susan Rice were among the nearly three dozen officials who attended the session. Defense Secretary Ash Carter — currently traveling in Asia — participated via secure video teleconference.
“The ISIL core in Syria and Iraq continues to shrink. Their ranks of fighters are estimated to be at the lowest levels in about two years,” Obama said in his remarks after the meeting. “We’re sending a message: If you target Americans, you have no safe haven. We will find you.”
It was the third time Obama had gathered his team to discuss the terror fight at sites outside of the typical gathering place in the White House Situation Room. Late last year, he traveled to the Pentagon to confer with military leaders about the battle, and in February, visited the State Department to amplify diplomatic efforts to combat ISIS.ok uok
Obama has said he is working to better explain his efforts against ISIS, particularly by underscoring areas where the U.S.-led coalition had made progress on the ground in Syria and Iraq. He’ll travel next week to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, to further coordinate efforts with leaders from Gulf states.
In his remarks, Obama said plotting a political path forward in Syria would also be on the agenda in Riyadh. Government forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad continue to battle rebel militias in Syria, despite a ceasefire sealed earlier this year.
Obama described the deal as strained during his remarks Wednesday but expressed optimism that it would hold going forward.
“The U.S. will continue to do everything we can to help the cessation succeed and to advance a political solution to the Syrian civil war,” Obama said, reiterating that Syria’s political future must not include Assad.
During next week’s trip, Obama will also consult allies in London and Germany to press for greater cooperation on the ISIS fight, particularly in sharing intelligence that could help thwart the kind of ISIS-linked attacks that have rocked Brussels and Paris within the last year.
Obama has said allied nations need to better coordinate the way they share intelligence about fighters returning from Syria to prevent similar incidents.
While Obama and his aides have cited group gains against ISIS, the massacres in Europe have shaken the American public’s confidence in Obama’s plans.
Obama has also tasked his national security team with devising ways to scale up the ISIS fight. Defense officials say one idea under consideration is sending an additional 250 U.S. Special Operations forces into Syria to advise rebels groups who are fighting the terror organization.