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Obama: Systematic Strategy Aims to "Dismantle" ISIL

Obama: Systematic Strategy Aims to "Dismantle" ISIL

By Alexis Simendinger - September 5, 2014

A “systematic and methodical” strategy over a long period of time can “dismantle” the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, President Obama said Friday.

Speaking at the conclusion of an important NATO summit in Wales, Obama tried again during a news conference to clarify U.S. and international objectives against the terror organization, and the strategy necessary to combat the Sunni extremists. Beyond describing a considered approach unfolding in “stages,” and ruling out placing U.S. ground troops inside Syria, the president offered few specifics about military approaches, even as the timetable for developing options appeared to lengthen.

Obama said the United States, with its allies, “stopped ISIL’s advances” in Iraq, where airstrikes have continued since early August. The president did not describe territory or towns defended or enemy combatants killed by a coalition of Iraqi and Kurdish fighters on the ground, backed by what the Pentagon said Friday has been a total of 131 U.S. military strikes from the air.

Supporting the Iraqi people to defend themselves and their government was stage 1, he said. Stage 2 involved collecting intelligence data and harnessing humanitarian assistance for Iraqis who have been under ISIL’s siege. The current stage, he added, is to broaden military, political, diplomatic and strategic communications capabilities to “take the fight to ISIL.”

Although earlier in the week he described reducing the Islamic State until it was a “manageable problem,” on Friday Obama dismissed containment as an option.

“You can’t contain an organization that is running roughshod through that much territory, causing that much havoc, displacing that many people, killing that many innocents, enslaving that many women,” he said.

The objective, Obama added, is to “ultimately destroy” (he also said “dismantle this force”) so the extremists who have already beheaded two American journalists “can’t do us harm.” The president’s original rationale for ordering airstrikes in Iraq was to defend American diplomatic personnel operating there, and around the world.

Although administration officials have said there is no credible terror risk from ISIL inside the U.S. homeland, the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks next week shines a spotlight on the reach of terrorists who are well funded, possess Western passports, are disciplined and trained like an army, and flaunt their savagery -- and rebuke Obama by name in English -- via YouTube.

The president, as he has in the past, is expected to deliver remarks at the Pentagon on the 9/11 anniversary.

ISIL (also known as ISIS) is one of the existing “remnants of terror groups” that have sprouted in countries around the world, the president said. “We will continue to hunt them down,” he vowed.

The administration announced Friday that the United States killed Ahmed Godane, the leader of al-Shabab, in Somalia. Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes tweeted that the action was “a huge blow to [the al-Qaeda] AQ affiliate … and [a] reminder of U.S. reach against terrorists.”

As he has for weeks, the president cautioned that combating the ISIL threat would not be quick. He has not ruled out the possibility that years will be needed to degrade the Islamic State’s impact.

In separate remarks in Wales, Secretary of State John Kerry, after meeting with his counterparts from 10 nations, also conceded the battle will be long: “It may take a year, it may take two years, it may take three years. But we’re determined it has to happen.”

Obama defended what his critics have suggested is a risk-averse and ambling approach to strategy development to crush ISIL in Iraq and Syria. The president said careful deliberation, undertaken with international partners -- including all 28 nations in NATO -- is more likely to be effective and less likely to produce unintended complications.

He said Iraq’s new government, struggling to function as a less sectarian authority, may be “formed and finalized next week,” which Obama has said is key.

“We are going to degrade and ultimately defeat ISIL the same way that we have gone after al-Qaeda,” the president continued. “We have been very systematic and methodical in going after these kinds of organizations that may threaten U.S. personnel and the homeland, and that deliberation allows us to do it right. But have no doubt. We will continue and I will continue to do what is necessary to protect the American people.”

The president will next meet with world leaders at the annual United Nations General Assembly meeting Sept. 23-24 in New York, and Kerry, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, and White House Counterterrorism Adviser Lisa Monaco continue to meet with international counterparts to discuss ISIL. 

Alexis Simendinger covers the White House for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at asimendinger@realclearpolitics.com. Follow her on Twitter @ASimendinger.

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