President Barack Obama spoke at the Pentagon on Monday to give an overview of the country’s strategy to combat the terrorist group ISIS.
Obama emphasised that ISIS (also known as the Islamic State, ISIL, and Daesh) is losing ground in the Middle East as the US ramps up airstrikes and coordinates with ground forces.
“We are hitting ISIL harder than ever,” Obama said, pointing to the nearly 9,000 airstrikes that the US and allies abroad have conducted in Iraq and Syria.
Obama also mentioned key ISIS leaders that have been taken out in recent months, including the British executioner Mohammed Emwazi (also known as “Jihadi John”) and ISIS finance chief Abu Saleh.
“ISIL leaders cannot hide and our next message to them is simple: You are next,” Obama said.
He also acknowledged the challenges in increasing airstrikes, noting that ISIS militants embed in civilian populations, using regular people as human shields to make the US and coalition forces more reluctant to strike.
“Even as we’re relentless, we have to be smart, targeting ISIL surgically with precision,” Obama said.
Obama touted successes the US and its partners have had in the past several months — taking out senior ISIS leaders, helping ground forces reclaim territory in Iraq and Syria, hitting the group’s oil infrastructure in an effort to cripple a major source of revenue for the terrorists, and targeting ISIS’ military positions, bomb factories, and training camps.
“Every day we destroy, as well, more of ISIL’s forces,” Obama said. “… Since this summer, ISIL has not had a single successful major offensive operation on the ground in either Syria or Iraq.”
Obama pointed out that ISIS has lost 40% of the populated areas that it once controlled in Iraq, and that ground forces working toward retaking Ramadi and encircling Fallujah to cut off ISIS’ supply route into the major Iraqi city it controls, Mosul.
Despite the progress the US has made in some areas of its fight against ISIS, terrorists affiliated with the group have pulled off several high-profile attacks in recent months.
In October, an ISIS affiliate in Egypt claimed that it bombed a Russian passenger jet as retaliation for Russian airstrikes in Syria. That attack killed 224 people.
In November, ISIS terrorists killed 130 people in several coordinated attacks across Paris.
And earlier this month, two shooters — one of whom reportedly pledged allegiance to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi — killed 14 people at a community center in San Bernardino, California.
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