In the past month or so, the White House has made a variety of different statements about President Barack Obama’s strategy for confronting the jihadist group Islamic State (also known as ISIL and ISIS) in Syria and Iraq. The shifting descriptions of the plan for fighting ISIS since military operations were launched against them in early August have led some lawmakers to worry the Obama administration has no strategy for fighting the group.
Here are all the ways Obama, his top aides, and members of his Cabinet have described their plans for dealing with ISIS. Examining all of their recent statements shows how their strategy has evolved and changed in recent weeks.
‘Limited’ And ‘Targeted’ Operations In Iraq
On August 7, when Obama authorised military operations against ISIS in Iraq he made a statement from the White House where referred to previous remarks he made about the group’s territorial gains where he expressed willingness to launch “targeted military action” against them.
“I said in June — as the terrorist group ISIL began an advance across Iraq — that the United States would be prepared to take targeted military action in Iraq if and when we determined that the situation required it,” said Obama. “In recent days, these terrorists have continued to move across Iraq, and have neared the city of Erbil, where American diplomats and civilians serve at our consulate and American military personnel advise Iraqi forces.”
Obama described ISIS’ advance toward Erbil and a situation involving thousands of members of the Yazidi religious minority who were trapped around Iraq’s Mount Sinjar while fleeing to avoid being killed by ISIS militants as the reasons he launched military operations. However, Obama also insisted the strikes on ISIS would not be the start of “another war in Iraq” and would not involve “combat troops” being sent to that country.
“I know that many of you are rightly concerned about any American military action in Iraq, even limited strikes like these. I understand that. I ran for this office in part to end our war in Iraq and welcome our troops home, and that’s what we’ve done. As Commander-in-Chief, I will not allow the United States to be dragged into fighting another war in Iraq,” Obama said. “And so even as we support Iraqis as they take the fight to these terrorists, American combat troops will not be returning to fight in Iraq, because there’s no American military solution to the larger crisis in Iraq. The only lasting solution is reconciliation among Iraqi communities and stronger Iraqi security forces. “
Obama made several more statements about the military strikes against ISIS in the first half of August. In these remarks, he repeatedly described the operations as “targeted,” “limited,” and focused on addressing the situation with the Yazidis and protecting American citizens and diplomatic personnel in Erbil.
‘We Broke The Seige’
On August 14, Obama announced U.S. forces “broke the siege of Mount Sinjar.” However, he also said the “situation remains dire for Iraqis subject to ISIL terror around the country.” Four days later, the president spoke at a press briefing where he said there had been “important progress” in the initial missions against ISIS in Iraq. In this statement, Obama stressed the need for Iraqi forces to confront ISIS, but he also hinted America’s military operations against the group could move “beyond” the initial two missions.
“We will continue to pursue a long-term strategy to turn the tide against ISIL by supporting the new Iraqi government and working with key partners in the region and beyond,” said Obama.
‘An Act Of Violence That Shocks The Conscience Of The Entire World’
After ISIS released a video showing one of its militants beheading the American journalist James Foley on August 20, Obama ramped up his rhetoric against the group and described it as a “cancer” that “has no place in the 21st century.”
“No just God would stand for what they did yesterday and what they do every single day,” Obama said.
However, in spite of those harsh words, Obama did not specify whether there would be any changes in U.S. strategy for fighting the group.
“The United State of America will continue to do what we must do to protect our people. We will be vigilant and we will be relentless,” said Obama.
ISIS ‘Must Be Destroyed’
Shortly after Obama spoke about Foley’s death, Secretary of State John Kerry hinted at an escalation of the American military operations against ISIS — both inside Iraq and potentially beyond its borders.
“Make no mistake: we will continue to confront ISIL wherever it tries to spread its despicable hatred,” Kerry said. “The world must know that the United States of America will never back down in the face of such evil. ISIL and the wickedness it represents must be destroyed, and those responsible for this heinous, vicious atrocity will be held accountable.”
Kerry was even more forceful on Twitter where he wrote, “ISIL must be destroyed/will be crushed.”
On August 21, Secretary of Defence Chuck Hagel described ISIS as an “imminent threat to every interest we have” at a joint press briefing with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey.
“They are as sophisticated and well-funded as any group that we have seen. They’re beyond just a terrorist group,” Hagel said, adding, “This is beyond anything we’ve seen. We must prepare for everything.”
It was Dempsey who made the first explicit call from within the Obama administration for military operations against ISIS in Syria. He said it would not be possible to “contain” ISIS without striking in that country as well as Iraq and said the group needed to be “defeated.”
“This is an organisation that has an apocalyptic end-of-days strategic vision that will eventually have to be defeated,” Dempsey said. “Can they be defeated without addressing that part of the organisation that resides in Syria? The answer is no.”
At this briefing, Hagel was asked about whether the mission against ISIS would expand into Syria. He said the U.S. would “continue to explore all options.”
‘We Don’t Have A Strategy Yet’
Obama addressed the U.S. plan for ISIS on August 28 in a White House press briefing where he made his now infamous comment that he did not yet have a “strategy” for confronting the group.
“I don’t want to put the cart before the horse,” said Obama. “We don’t have a strategy yet,”
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest immediately rushed to clarify the president’s remarks on Twitter and in an appearance on CNN shortly after the briefing. Earnest insisted “we have a comprehensive strategy for dealing with ISIL” and said the president simply has not decided on what “approach” to take for confronting the group in Syria.
“The president asked a specific question about what approach he was going to pursue when it came to possible military action in Syria against ISIL. That was the specific question he was asked and the president was explicit that he is still waiting for plans that are being developed by the Pentagon for military options he has for going into Syria.”
In other media appearances following the briefing Earnest was asked whether the U.S. is “at war” with ISIS. He repeatedly rejected this characterization.
“What we are doing is we are working very aggressively with international partners, with Iraqi and Kurdish security forces, to take the steps necessary to mitigate the threat that’s posed by ISIL,” said Earnest to MSNBC’s Chris Hayes.
‘Degrade And Destroy’
On Wednesday, Obama began to discuss specific plans for expanding operations against ISIS in the wake of the release of a video from the group showing a second American journalist, Steven Sotloff, being killed.
During a press conference in Estonia, Obama initially said the U.S. plan is to “degrade and destroy” ISIS. However, shortly afterward, Obama seemed to contradict himself when he said he hoped to diminish the group until it became a “manageable problem” rather than eliminate it entirely.
“This is not going to be a one-week or one-month or six-month proposition because of what’s happened in the vacuum of Syria, as well as the battle-hardened elements of (Islamic State) that grew out of Al Qaeda in Iraq during the course of the Iraq war … it’s going to take time for us to be able to roll them back,” Obama said.
Other White House officials seemed to take a harder line than the president and explicitly called for the destruction of ISIS.
In an interview with CNN on Wednesday, Hagel was asked about the apparent contradiction in Obama’s earlier remarks and said there was no question the goal of American military operations against ISIS would be to eliminate the group entirely.
“It’s not contain,” Hagel said of the U.S. mission against ISIS. “It’s exactly what the president said: Degrade and destroy.”
He also reiterated his prior comments ISIS could pose a threat to American interests both abroad and in the country, though he did not outline a specific timeline for when the group would become a danger.
“We will do everything possible that we can do to destroy their capacity to inflict harm on our people,” said Hagel.
As is his custom, Vice President Joe Biden offered the most blunt commentary of any Obama administration official when he discussed the video of Sotloff’s killing and the U.S. mission against ISIS in a speech Wednesday.
“We will follow them to the gates of hell until they are brought to justice. Because hell is where they will reside. Hell is where they will reside,” Biden said.
President Obama’s most recent comments on his plans to confront ISIS came in a joint op-ed with British Prime Minister David Cameron published in the Times of London on Thursday. In that piece, the two leaders did not go into specifics, but stressed both America and the United Kingdom are committed to fighting the group.
“We will not waver in our determination to confront ISIL. If terrorists think we will weaken in the face of their threats they could not be more wrong,” they wrote. “Countries like Britain and America will not be cowed by barbaric killers. We will be more forthright in the defence of our values, not least because a world of greater freedom is a fundamental part of how we keep our own people safe.”
NOW WATCH: Briefing videos
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.