Flanked by the nation’s top generals, including the leaders of CENTCOM and AFRICOM, as well as the secretary of Defense and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, President Obama acknowledged “we’re going to have to pick up our game” to prevent attacks from ISIS.
But, Obama stressed, “we’ll constantly reaffirm through words and deeds that we will never be at war with Islam while fighting terrorists who distort Islam and whose victims are mostly Muslims.”
Looking down at the podium in the Pentagon briefing room frequently as he was reading off a prepared speech without the benefit of a teleprompter, Obama said the “larger battle for hearts and minds” to defeat ISIS “is going to be a generational struggle. It’s ultimately not going to be lost or won by the United States alone.”
“We’re going to work day and night with allies and partners to disrupt terrorist networks and thwart attacks and to smother nascent ISIL cells that may be trying to develop in other parts of the world. This also includes remaining vigilant in protecting against attacks here in the homeland,” the president said. “Now I think it’s important for us to recognize the threat of violent extremism is not restricted to any one community. Here in the United States, we have seen all kinds of home-grown 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.”
“So our efforts to counter violent extremism must not target any one community because of their faith or background, including patriotic Muslim Americans who are partners in keeping our country safe.”
He then acknowledged that ISIS “has been particularly effective at reaching out to and recruiting vulnerable people around the world, including here in the United States.”
“And they are targeting Muslim communities around the world. Numerous individuals have been arrested across the country for plotting attacks or attempting to join ISIL in Syria and Iraq,” he said. “Two men apparently inspired by ISIL opened fire in Garland, Texas. And because of our success over the years in improving our homeland security, we’ve made it harder for terrorists to carry out large-scale attacks like 9/11 here at home. But the threat of lone wolves or small cells of terrorists is complex. It’s harder to detect and harder to prevent. It’s one of the most different challenges that we face.”
“…The good news is that, because of extraordinary efforts from law enforcement as well as our military intelligence, we are doing a better job at preventing any large-scale attacks on the homeland. On the other hand, these small individual lone wolf attacks or small cells become harder to detect and they become more sophisticated using new technologies.”
Obama said the broader “twisted” ideology behind ISIS and al-Qaeda must be “discredited,” and “ideologies are not defeated with guns; they’re defeated by better ideas, more attractive and more compelling vision.”
“So the United States will continue to do our part by working with partners to counter ISIL’s hateful propaganda, especially online. We’ll constantly reaffirm through words and deeds that we will never be at war with Islam while fighting terrorists who distort Islam and whose victims are mostly Muslims,” he added.
“…It’s going to be up to Muslim communities, including scholars and clerics, to keep rejecting warped interpretations of Islam and to protect their sons and daughters from recruitment.”
Obama responded to a reservist’s question about future deployments by saying they didn’t even discuss the issue in today’s strategy meeting.
“It is not enough for us to simply send in American troops to temporarily set back organizations like ISIL, but to then, as soon as we leave, see that void filled once again with extremists,” he said. “…Because if we try to do everything ourselves all across the Middle East, all across North Africa, we’ll be playing whack-a-mole. And there will be a whole lot of unintended consequences that ultimately make us less secure.”
Touting the effects of more than 5,000 coalition airstrikes, Obama mentioned areas from which ISIS had been pushed back, including the Syrian border city Kobane. He didn’t, however, mention ISIS’ recent bloody attack on the city and massacre of civilians there.
“ISIL’s strategic weaknesses are real. 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, sometimes executing its own disillusioned fighters. Its unrestrained brutality often alienates those under its rule, creating new enemies,” he said.
“In short, ISIL’s recent losses in both Syria and Iraq prove that ISIL can and will be defeated. Indeed, we’re intensifying our efforts against ISIL’s base in Syria. Our airstrikes will continue to target the oil and gas facilities that fund so much of their operations. We’re going after the ISIL leadership and infrastructure in Syria, the heart of ISIL that pumps funds and propaganda to people around the world.”
But, he reiterated, “This will not be quick.”