Obama calls Islamic State’s defeat ‘inevitable’ even as he warns of attacks in the West

President Obama answers a question during a news conference at the Pentagon after attending a National Security Council meeting on efforts to counter Islamic State.
(Jacquelyn Martin / Associated Press)

President Obama said Thursday that defeating Islamic State was “inevitable,” but he warned that the terrorist network is likely to focus increasingly on attacking Western targets.

Speaking at a news conference after a briefing at the Pentagon, Obama said the Sunni Muslim extremist group has suffered so many setbacks on the battlefield that it has begun to concede its goal of holding a permanent territorial footprint in the Middle East.

He said the group, sometimes referred to as ISIS or ISIL, is adapting by pursuing high-profile attacks in Europe and elsewhere, even if they are less deadly than the coordinated Al Qaeda plots of a decade or so ago.

“What ISIL has figured out is that if they can convince a handful of people or even one person to carry out an attack at a subway or a parade or some other public venue, and kill scores of people as opposed to thousands of people, it still creates the kind of fear and concern that elevates their profile,” Obama said.

“Rooting out these networks for smaller, less complicated attacks is tougher,” he added, and requires greater intelligence gathering and cooperation among allies. But he said he was confident in his administration’s strategy.


“It is so important for us to keep our eye on the ball and not panic, not succumb to fear, because ISIL can’t defeat the United States of America or our NATO partners,” he said. “We can defeat ourselves, though, if we make that decision.”

The Obama administration’s counter-terrorism strategy has been one of the key components of Donald Trump’s presidential bid.

“We are going to defeat the barbarians of ISIS, and we’re going to defeat them fast,” Trump said in his speech accepting the Republican nomination.

Obama used his news conference to offer something of a rebuttal, even if he did not name Trump until reporters asked specifically about him.

The U.S.-led coalition has launched more than 14,000 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Iraq and Syria, the president said. He named senior leaders who have been killed, as well as cities and towns where the militants’ advance has been reversed.

“ISIL turns out not to be invincible,” he said. “They’re, in fact, inevitably going to be defeated.”

The president conceded the complexity of the challenge in Syria, where the multi-sided 5-year-old civil war is a major impediment to finding and killing the militants.

He said Russia has shown “deplorable” conduct by supporting Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government, and said it raises serious questions about Moscow’s commitment to ending the crisis.

“I’m pretty confident that a big chunk of my gray hair comes out of my Syria meetings,” said Obama, who turned 55 on Thursday.

For more White House coverage, follow @mikememoli on Twitter.


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