Obama: Defeating ISIS ‘will not be quick’

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The fight against the Islamic State and Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is winnable but will take time, President Obama said Monday after a briefing with military leaders at the Pentagon.

“This will not be quick,” Obama told reporters. “This is a long-term campaign.”

{mosads}Following a meeting with nearly three dozen members of his national security team, the president said the U.S. would step up its effort to cut off ISIS’ cash flow and accelerate the fight against the group in Syria.

Obama’s rare Pentagon visit came one month after he said the U.S. lacked a “complete strategy” to train and equip Iraqi forces to defeat ISIS on the ground. Facing pressure from Capitol Hill, the president and his team have sought to show that they have a plan to drive the group out of the Middle East.

Obama said the U.S.-led coalition has carried out more than 5,000 airstrikes against ISIS targets, and that the group has lost one quarter of the populated area it held since the military offensive began last year.

“These are reminders that ISIL’s strategic weaknesses are real,” Obama said, using another acronym for the group.

Obama said that many ISIS fighters have become disillusioned by the group’s brutal tactics, and noted that  Middle Eastern nations are not supporting the group.

But Obama stressed Iraqi security forces and local fighters will ultimately bear responsibility for erasing gains made by the group in cities like Ramadi and Mosul.

There are “no current plans” to send more U.S. troops to Iraq, and the troops already there will not enter the battlefield in a combat role, Obama said.

“If we try to do everything ourselves all across the Middle East, all across North Africa, we’ll be playing whack-a-mole,” Obama said. “There will be a whole lot of unintended consequences that ultimately make us less secure.”

Iraqi forces suffered an embarrassing defeat in May, when ISIS forces drove them out of Ramadi, the provincial capital of Anbar. That prompted the U.S. to send 450 additional troops to train and assist Iraqi and Sunni tribal fighters to take back the city.

U.S. and Iraqi officials have blamed slow training of both regular and tribal fighters for the fall of Ramadi. But many Sunni tribes have also been reluctant to join the fight because of friction with the Shiite-led government in Baghdad.

“When we have an effective partner on the ground, ISIL can be pushed back,” Obama said.

Obama called on the Senate to confirm Adam Szubin, his nominee as the Treasury Department’s undersecretary for terrorism and financial crimes. Szubin, who is currently serving as the acting undersecretary, would be in charge of choking off ISIS funding by eliminating its illicit cash flows.

Earlier Monday, White House press secretary Josh Earnest chastised Senate Republicans for dragging their feet in confirming Szubin, who was nominated in mid-April. He urged senators to confirm Szubin before they leave Washington for August recess.

“It’s time for Republicans in the Senate to do their jobs for a change,” Earnest said.

In Syria, Obama said U.S. forces are “intensifying” their efforts against ISIS by targeting oil and gas facilities that fund the group. The U.S. will also be stepping up the training and equipping of moderate Syrian opposition, which so far has proven to be a difficult task.

The president declined to reveal further details on how the U.S. would accelerate the Syria mission.

He also said that more needed to be done to counter ISIS’ ability to inspire lone wolf-attacks in the United States and abroad. He noted recent deadly attacks in Tunisia and Kuwait, for which the group took credit.

“Ideologies are not defeated by guns. They’re defeated with better ideas,” Obama said.

The president said the U.S. would step up its efforts to hamper ISIS’ online recruitment efforts, including strengthening partnerships with countries in the Middle East.

“This larger battle for hearts and minds is going to be a generational struggle,” Obama said.

Despite the president’s pledges, Republicans said he still has not demonstrated he has a comprehensive strategy to defeat the group.

“A speech isn’t a strategy,” said Cory Fritz, a spokesman for Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio). “At no point in his remarks did President Obama indicate he’s doing anything to change course and actually build the broad, overarching plan that’s needed to take on these savage terrorists and win.”

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