The day after U.S.-led coalition forces launched air assaults on the Islamic State in Syria, President Obama suggested Monday that the fight against the terrorist group doesn't begin and end with the military.
Islamic State fighters must be rooted out from the "vulnerable" populations around the world where they have found recruits, including in the U.S., he said. Though "we've made it harder" to carry out 9/11-style attacks, lone-wolf and small-cell threats are harder to detect, he added.
"Here in the United States we have seen all kinds of homegrown terrorism, and tragically, recent history reminds us how even a single individual motivated by a hateful ideology with access to dangerous weapons can inflict horrendous harm on Americans," Obama said, alluding to the recent shooting at a historically black church in Charleston, South Carolina. "So our efforts to counter violent extremism must not target any one community because of their faith or background."
Ahead of his statement on Monday, Obama met with military leaders at the Pentagon to speak about Syria, where U.S.-led forces conducted 18 airstrikes overnight in Islamic State-controlled Raqqa. The Syria-bound assaults were concurrent with 26 strikes in Iraq.
The Obama administration hasn't always been clear about its strategy for combating the Islamic State, especially in Iraq. Last month, Obama and his top defense officials presented mixed messages about their approach.
During Monday's statement, Obama said that as airstrikes continue to target Islamic State fighters and infrastructure, U.S. efforts will also target their widespread financing. He called out Congress for not doing its part to combat the flow the money to terror coffers.
"If Congress really wants to help in this effort," Obama said, it should confirm Adam Szubin, his nominee for the post of undersecretary for terrorism and financial crimes, whom he nominated back in April.
"He's highly qualified," the president said, but "unfortunately his nomination has been languishing up on the Hill. And we need the Senate to confirm him as soon as possible."
At the outset of his statement, Obama sought to temper any extraordinarily positive expectations by reminding Americans, again, that the effort to defeat the Islamic State "will not be quick," and military forces are still staring down a "long-term campaign."
But even as the Islamic State has made gains in parts of Syria and Iraq, Obama said the U.S. has seen successes in its 5,000 airstrikes against their forces, which have destroyed training camps, tanks, and bomb factories, and have "eliminated" thousands of their soldiers.
"ISIL's strategic weaknesses are real," Obama said, referring to the Islamic State by an alternate name. "ISIL is surrounded by countries and communities committed to its destruction. It has no air force—our coalition owns the skies. ISIL is backed by no nation—it relies on fear."
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