President Obama brushed aside Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson's claim it would be "fairly easy" to defeat the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) if he were commander in chief.

"What I think is he doesn't know much about it," Obama said in an interview with ABC News's George Stephanopoulos that aired Friday.


"I've had access to all the best military minds in the country and all the best foreign policy minds in the country," the president added. "If I'm down in the Situation Room talking with people who have worked in these regions and have run major military operations, from my chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Joe Dunford, to individuals like Gen. [John] Allen, who was involved in Iraqi operations in 2007, 2008, and they don't think it's easy, it's probably not easy."

In Tuesday night's GOP primary debate in Milwaukee, Carson said he would make ISIS "look like losers" by "destroying their caliphate."

"Take all of that land from them. We could do that, I believe, fairly easily, I’ve learned from talking to several generals, and then you move on from there," Carson added.

Obama has sought to paint the Republican presidential field as unfit to succeed him. And in recent days, the White House has singled out Carson, who has risen to the top of the GOP primary polls.

National Security Adviser Susan Rice on Thursday said there is no evidence of Chinese military involvement in Syria, despite Carson's claim in the debate there is.

On Friday, Carson's campaign issued a "clarification" of his comments, claiming "Dr. Carson does not believe China is currently fighting in or deploying troops to Syria" but that China has provided weapons and military equipment to forces there.

Asked for his assessment of the anti-ISIS campaign, which has lasted more than a year, Obama said the group is no longer growing stronger but that more needs to be done to "completely decapitate" their ability to carry out large-scale operations.

“I don't think they're gaining strength,” he said. “From the start, our goal has been first to contain, and we have contained them. They have not gained ground in Iraq. And in Syria it — they'll come in, they'll leave. But you don't see this systematic march by ISIL across the terrain." ISIL, or the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, is an alternative name for the terorrist organization. 

The president said the group will only be defeated when local fighters are able to have sustained progress against ISIS forces on the ground in Iraq and Syria.

“What we have not yet been able to do is to completely decapitate their command and control structures," he said. "We've made some progress in trying to reduce the flow of foreign fighters. Part of our goal has to be to recruit more effective Sunni partners in Iraq to really go on offense rather than simply engage in defense.”

The president gave the interview on Thursday, the same day U.S. airstrikes in Syria targeted the ISIS executioner known as "Jihadi John." The British national was featured in videos of executions of U.S. hostages, including journalists Steven Sotloff and James Foley, issuing messages in English and appearing to slit their throats before the cameras cut away.

Obama said the strategy he has designed has “contained the momentum that ISIL had gained” but added the region will remain in turmoil “until we get the Syria political situation resolved," including removing President Bashar Assad from office.

“Until Assad is no longer a lightning rod for Sunnis in Syria and that entire region is no longer a proxy war for Shia-Sunni conflict, we're going to continue to have problems,” he said. “I would distinguish between making sure that the place is perfect — that's not going to happen anytime soon — with making sure that ISIL continues to shrink in its scope of operations until it no longer poses the kind of threat that it does.”

Updated at 9:12 a.m.