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United Nations summit seeks to counter Islamic State

President Obama speaks at the United Nations General Assembly in New York.

President Obama speaks at the United Nations General Assembly in New York.

(Spencer Platt / Getty Images)

President Obama will urge a special United Nations summit Tuesday to support the U.S.-led air war against Islamic State and to fend off a competing push by Russia to craft a coalition involving Iran and President Bashar Assad’s government in Syria.

In recent weeks, Russia has built up a sizable military force inside Syria, and the Obama administration has acknowledged growing problems with its effort to roll back the extremist group from strongholds in Iraq and Syria despite more than 7,000 airstrikes since August 2014.

Most dramatically, a $500-million Pentagon program to train several thousand Syrian guerrillas to fight Islamic State has been marred by delays and defections. The year-long effort has fielded only a handful of fighters so far.

A congressional report to be released Tuesday concludes that the stream of foreign fighters, including Americans, making their way to Syria and Iraq to join Islamic State or other extremist groups continues to grow.

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The House Homeland Security Committee report, after a six-month investigation, criticizes the Obama administration and its allies for not sharing information to help each other identify individual fighters and for failing to stop the cross-border traffic, according to a U.S. official briefed on the document who was not authorized to discuss it.

Nearly 30,000 fighters from 100 countries have joined the conflict since Syria’s civil war began in 2011. That’s an increase of about 8,000 in the last six months, according to estimates by U.S. counter-terrorism officials.

About 250 U.S. citizens and permanent residents have traveled or attempted to travel to Syria and Iraq in the last 4 1/2 years, including about 70 in the last six months, the officials said.

On Monday, Obama told the U.N. General Assembly that he is “prepared to work with any nation including Russia and Iran to resolve the conflict” in Syria.

But he reiterated U.S. opposition to allowing Assad to stay in power, calling for a “managed transition away from Assad and to a new leader.”

Speaking after Obama, Russian President Vladimir Putin countered that Assad’s government and Kurdish militias fighting Islamic State in northern Iraq and Syria are the only effective forces arrayed against the militants.

“We should finally acknowledge that no one but President Assad’s forces and Kurdish militia are truly fighting Islamic State and other terrorist forces in Syria,” Putin said.

The U.S.-led coalition has struggled to dislodge Islamic State from most major cities and military bases in Iraq since the air war began.

Iraq’s military has spent the last four months trying to retake the provincial capital of Ramadi, which Islamic State seized in May. About 9,000 Iraqi troops have encircled the city, but have yet to push out a far smaller number of militants.

Twitter: @ByBrianBennett

Twitter: @wjhenn

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