Because of U.S. airstrikes, Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) forces “are losing arms and equipment. In some areas, Iraqi government and Kurdish forces have begun to push them back,” President Obama told reporters August 28, but he added that U.S. “military action in Iraq has to be part of a broader, comprehensive strategy to protect our people and to support our partners who are taking the fight to ISIL.”
He called on Iraq’s leaders to build on their progress and form an inclusive government that will unite Iraq and strengthen its forces to confront ISIL.
The president announced Secretary of State John Kerry will travel to the region to help build a coalition of nations most threatened by ISIL to meet the threat.
“Rooting out a cancer like ISIL will not be quick or easy, but I’m confident that we can — and we will — working closely with our allies and our partners,” Obama said.
U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel is preparing a range of military options for consideration by the National Security Council, the president said, adding that he has been consulting with members of Congress and will continue to do so.
Obama said the current U.S. military role is focused on protecting American personnel in Iraq and the U.S. Embassy and consulates, as well as ensuring critical infrastructure is protected. He said the United States would continue to respond to opportunities to provide humanitarian relief, as it did recently on Sinjar Mountain.
Journalists questioned Obama on conditions in Syria and whether U.S. forces would counter ISIL forces in that nation.
“The violence that’s been taking place in Syria has obviously given ISIL a safe haven there in ungoverned spaces,” the president said. “To degrade ISIL over the long term, we’re going to have to build a regional strategy.”
Obama said that “part of the goal here is to make sure that Sunnis both in Syria and in Iraq feel as if they’ve got an investment in a government that actually functions, a government that can protect them, a government that makes sure that their families are safe from the barbaric acts that we’ve seen in ISIL.”
The challenge in Syria is not simply a military issue but also a political issue, the president said. President Bashar Assad “has lost legitimacy in terms of dropping barrel bombs on innocent families and killing tens of thousands of people,” he said.
The United States continues “to support a moderate opposition inside of Syria, in part because we have to give people inside of Syria a choice other than ISIL or Assad.”
The president reiterated that his priority “is to make sure that the gains that ISIL made in Iraq are rolled back, and that Iraq has the opportunity to govern itself effectively and secure itself.”
Asserting that Iraq security forces will need help from the United States and international partners to be successful, Obama said that “we are going to be prepared to offer that support” and suggested there might be a role for an international coalition to provide additional air support for their operations.
The president repeated his call for nations in the region to “stop being ambivalent about these extremist groups. The truth is that we’ve had state actors who at times have thought that the way to advance their interests is, well, financing some of these groups as proxies is not such a bad strategy. And part of our message to the entire region is this should be a wake-up call to Sunni, to Shia — to everybody — that a group like ISIS is beyond the pale, that they have no vision or ideology beyond violence and chaos and the slaughter of innocent people.”