President Obama’s efforts to take down the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria may have ramped up in recent months, but they are far from over.
“This will not be quick. This is a long-term campaign. ISIL is opportunistic and it is nimble,” he said at the Pentagon on Monday, using an alternative acronym for the Islamist group.
Obama said the U.S.-led coalition has now hit ISIS with more than 5,000 airstrikes, taking out thousands of fighters — including senior commanders. Victories can already be counted: the terrorist group has now lost more than a quarter of the territory it had previously held in Iraq. Nevertheless, he said, no amount of military force will be enough to defeat ISIS.
To stem the flow of foreign fighters to ISIS’s ranks, he said, we need to combat its ideology. “Ideologies are not defeated with guns, they’re defeated by better ideas, a more attractive and compelling vision,” he said. While Obama maintained the U.S. should not target any single religious or ethnic community, he pointed out that the group has been particularly effective at recruiting “vulnerable” Muslims around the world and called on that community “to step up in terms of pushing back as hard as they can” against extremist ideologies.
Obama argued that for the campaign to succeed in the long term, the coalition would have to help train local security forces to maintain order in the Middle East, noting that ISIS has filled a void in the communities where it’s gained ground, and “we have to make sure that as we push them out, that void is filled.”
“If we try to do everything ourselves all across the Middle East, all across North Africa,” he said, “we’ll be playing Whac-A-Mole.”