Obama vows to ‘hunt down’ Islamic State militants
Obama said he believes the Islamic State (IS) – formerly known as ISIS/ISIL – is a serious threat to the American people, but that the US and its allies have the capacity to deal with the militants. However, he admitted that it “would be a profound mistake” to put boots on the ground.
“This is not the equivalent of the Iraq war,” said the president, stressing the need to work with regional partners like Iraq and Kurdish forces, as well as Syrian rebels. Ironically, the forces with the most chance of defeating IS in Syria, he noted, are those of President Bashar Assad, who the West has so far refused to work with.
The president insisted that “over the course of months, we are going to be able to not just blunt the momentum of ISIS. We are going to systematically degrade their capabilities. We’re going to shrink the territory that they control. And that’s how we’re going to defeat them.”
Obama also warned that while there is no “immediate intelligence” of a threat to the US by the Islamic State, the extremists could attempt attacks on US soil if they are allowed to grow and continue their rapid recruitment of foreign fighters.
The president did hammer home that the way the US will fight terrorism under his leadership is markedly different to the tactic of his predecessor, George W. Bush.
“Our goal should not be to think that we can occupy every country where there’s a terrorist organization. Our goal has to be to partner more effectively with government that is committed to pushing back against the kind of extremism that ISIS represents,” Obama said.
In unusually candid comments, Obama said the US and its Arab allies must look at the reasons why young people are attracted to IS in the first place.
“One of the things we’ve seen about [IS] is they’re reallygood on social media. They understand how to message to disaffected youth throughout the Arab world and throughout the Sunni world what they’re doing,” he said.
Obama’s interview comes in the wake of the deaths of two US journalists in the past few weeks, both at the hands of IS militants.
Steven Sotloff was a freelance journalist working in Syria when he was captured by Islamic militants a year ago. A video appeared which purports to show his beheading on September 3, although the exact timing of video cannot be confirmed.
Shortly before that, the Islamic State released a video showing the beheading of James Foley, who had gone missing in Syria in November 2012.
After the video in which Sotloff appears, a masked man whose voice is similar to the man who carried out the Foley beheading issued a warning to the US for getting involved in Iraq.
"I'm back, Obama, and I'm back because of your arrogant foreign policy towards the Islamic State...despite our serious warnings," the man said.
"We take this opportunity to warn those governments that enter this evil alliance of America against the Islamic State to back off and leave our people alone," he added.
The Iraq war, which President Obama voted against when he was a congressman, began in March 2003 with a US-led invasion of Saddam Hussein’s Ba’athist Iraq.
This was followed by a much longer phase of insurgency against the occupying forces and the new Iraqi government. Over 95 percent of the US casualties that took place during the Iraq war happened during that time. The US finally withdrew all military personnel in December 2011, by which time the insurgency issue was still unsolved. It continues to cause thousands of deaths annually.