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Clinton calls for more aggressive fight against ISIS

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Hillary Clinton on Thursday called for the United States and international allies to ramp up the pressure against Islamic extremists in Iraq and Syria, calling for a stronger American role while also ruling out U.S. ground troops. 

In a speech outlining what she called “an intensification and an acceleration” of President Obama’s current policy, the Democratic presidential front-runner suggested that the U.S. take a firmer role rallying international efforts against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). 

{mosads}Clinton suggested that the United States increase the number of special forces sent to Syria to combat ISIS while also loosening the leash on American military advisers in Iraq, calling for more “flexibility” to help them assist local forces. 

“What we have done with airstrikes has made a difference but now it needs to make a greater difference and we need more of a coalition flying those missions with us,” Clinton said in a conversation at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. 

“We have pieces in place but I think we have to deepen and better coordinate not only within our own country and Europe but more broadly.” 

The remarks struck Republicans as a continuation of Obama’s policy against the extremist group, which they describe as weak and in effective.

In a statement after the speech, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus called Clinton the “architect of the failed Obama foreign policy that has presided over a steep increase in radical Islamic terrorism and the rise of ISIS.”

“Rather than putting forward a new plan to defeat ISIS, Hillary Clinton offered soaring platitudes and largely doubled down on the existing Obama strategy,” he added.

Yet Clinton’s background as America’s top diplomat has made her fluent in the intricacies of global affairs that have occasionally stumped Republican contenders, most notably former neurosurgeon Ben Carson.

She also clearly views the experience as an asset, referring more than once to her tenure as secretary of State and recalling the successful mission to kill al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden — a high point of the Obama administration’s foreign policy legacy.

In contrast to some of her potential Republican opponents, such as former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Clinton ruled out deploying U.S. troops to Syria, echoing President Obama’s warning that a new war in the Middle East would be merely a repeat of the war in Iraq. 

“Like President Obama, to I do not believe that we should again have 100,000 American troops in ground combat in the Middle East,” Clinton insisted to an audience that included New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, who endorsed Clinton ealier this year. “That is just not the smart move to make here.” 

Still, the former secretary of State came across on Thursday as more hawkish than her former boss and current resident of the White House. 

In a repeat of Saturday evening’s claim at the debate, she appeared to directly refute Obama’s claims about “containing” ISIS within the swath of land that it controls in the Middle East. 

“Our goal is not to deter or to contain ISIS but to defeat and destroy ISIS,” she said. 

“But we have learned that we can score victories over terrorist leaders and networks only to face metastasizing threats down the road. So we also have to play the long game.” 

The divides, she said, reflect a long-discussed break with President Obama, who distinguished himself during the 2008 campaign by his opposition to the war in Iraq and is generally seen as more dovish. 

Clinton and Obama have “differences,” she said, “as a lot of two people do.” 

The presidential candidate also took thinly veiled shots at some of the GOP presidential contenders, in particular by blasting their skepticism of the U.S. taking in Syrian refugees. 

“I just don’t think we should have religious tests about who we should bring into our country,” she said, in a pointed jab at Bush and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas). Both Republican candidates have suggested that the country should only allow Christian refugees from Syria into the country. 

“We cannot allow terrorists to intimidate us to abandon our values,” Clinton claimed. 

Later on Thursday, a bipartisan majority of the House is expected to approve legislation temporarily halting President Obama’s plans to bring 10,000 new Syrian refugees into the U.S. until various officials declare they have been fully vetted. 

“It doesn’t send the message that we want to send to the rest of the world,” Clinton said. “We have to be careful, we have to be vigilant and we have to have a system that does all of that.” 

The first pillar in Clinton’s strategy, she said, should be to “crush” ISIS in its self-proclaimed caliphate in Iraq and Syria. 

To root the extremist group out of its land in the Middle East, Clinton called for increased U.S. pressure to get countries in and around the Middle East to bring the fight more aggressively to ISIS. 

“Ultimately our efforts will only succeed if the Arabs and Turks step up in a much bigger way,” she said. 

In particular, Clinton pointed a finger at Iraq, where she claimed that Baghdad had been slow to empower Sunni Muslim and Kurdish minority groups. 

“One thing we need to do that we haven’t done yet is making it clear to Baghdad that we’re going to be arming Sunni tribes and Kurds if they don’t,” Clinton said, in one of her clearest criticism of the Obama administration. 

She also highlighted Turkey’s focus on Kurdish separatists and Saudi Arabia’s efforts to confront Iran-backed rebels in Yemen as distractions from the fight against ISIS. 

Clinton also reiterated her calls for a no-fly zone in Syria and for creating a safe zone in the country. 

To support troops from Iraq and around the region, the U.S. should “immediately deploy the special operations force President Obama has already authorized and be prepared to deploy more as more Syrians get into the fight,” Clinton said. 

Outside of the Middle East, the U.S. should work to “disrupt and dismantle” the funding infrastructure that allows for it to thrive, Clinton said, as well as shore up U.S. defenses. 

That involves increased cooperation with technology companies, Clinton said, whose platforms have allowed extremists to spread their propaganda throughout the globe. 

She also raised the specter of cracking down on the proliferation of advanced encryption technology, which allow for people to communicate without being detected. The tools have come under fire in recent days, following claims that the attackers in Paris discussed their plot through encrypted communications.

“We should take the concerns of law enforcement and counterterrorism professionals seriously,” Clinton said, without offering a firm stance on the issue. “On the other hand, we know there are legitimate concerns about government intrusion, network security and creating new vulnerability.”

This story was updated at 12:37 p.m.

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