In a change of tune from the Obama administration, White House press secretary Josh Earnest said Friday the U.S. is “at war” with the group calling itself the Islamic State (also known as ISIS or ISIL).
“The United States is at war with ISIL in the same way we are at war with al Qaeda and its affiliates,” Earnest told reporters at the White House.
Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby echoed Earnest’s statement on Friday, saying “we know we are at war with ISIL” despite rejecting comparisons to previous U.S.-led wars in Iraq.
The administration has previously rejected such a characterization — “war” — preferring to call a ramped-up campaign against the extremist Islamic group some version of a “counterterrorism operation.” As far back as Aug. 29, Earnest rejected the characterization the U.S. was “at war” with the group.
During a statement from the White House on Wednesday night, President Barack Obama called his plan for ramped-up action against the group a “counterterrorism strategy.” Secretary of State John Kerry refused to call the campaign a “war” in an interview with CNN Thursday, saying the “significant counterterrorism operation” will require “many different things that one doesn’t think of normally in context of war.”
“What we are doing is engaging in a very significant counterterrorism operation,” Kerry told CNN’s Elise Labott in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. “It’s going to go on for some period of time. If somebody wants to think about it as being a war with ISIL, they can do so, but the fact is it’s a major counterterrorism operation that will have many different moving parts.”
In his primetime speech, Obama cast his strategy in the same light as counterterrorism operations in Yemen and Somalia.
But his comparison was rejected by many analysts — including NBC’s Richard Engel, who called it an “oversimplification” and “wildly off base.” The U.S. runs smaller, targeted counterterrorism operations in both Yemen and Somalia, but they have the support of cooperative governments.
“It’s much more akin to regime change than it is to wading back and picking targets with allied forces,” Engel said of the mission against ISIS. “They are not comparable at all.”
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