The US intelligence failure on ISIL is raising serious questions in the Middle East.
President Barack Obama said on Monday that the US was hitting the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) “harder than ever” in a message seen as an effort to ease public concern after a spate of deadly attacks around the world.
“The point is ISIL leaders cannot hide and our next message to them is simple: ‘You are next’,” Obama said after meeting with his national security team at the Pentagon.
The US strategy of hunting down ISIL leaders in Iraq and Syria, training local forces and stopping ISIL’s financing and propaganda is progressing, he said.
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“This continues to be a difficult fight,” he said. “We recognise that progress needs to keep coming faster.”
Al Jazeera’s Patty Culhane, reporting from Washington, said Obama wanted to send a message of reassurance to the American people.
“The president’s team knows – as polls suggest – that the vast majority of Americans don’t believe the fight against ISIL is going very well. They don’t think the president has a strategy. It’s hurting him,” said Culhane.
“So you are going to see him push the notion that people are safe and his administration is doing what it can do to protect the homeland.”
Ashton Carter, the US defence secretary, was being sent to the Middle East to secure more military help from partner nations in the fight against ISIL, the US president said.
Obama ticked off a list of accomplishments by the US and its allies against the group: ISIL had lost significant swaths of territory it once controlled in Iraq and Syria, and its leaders were being targeted “one by one”.
“Since the summer, ISIL has not had a single successful ground operation in either Syria or Iraq,” he said, adding that the coalition was also targeting its oil tanker trucks, wells and refineries.
Obama, a Democrat, has come under criticism from the opposition Republicans for not doing enough to counter ISIL’s deadly attacks.
On November 13, attacks by gunmen with suicide vests killed 130 people in Paris. ISIL took responsibility for the attacks.
A shooting rampage in San Bernardino, California, killed 14 people on December 2. Authorities believe the couple who carried out that attack were inspired by ISIL.
“The American people are smart enough to know when something is working or not, and it’s obvious that the president’s current strategy isn’t working,” Kevin McCarthy, the Republican House Majority leader, said in response to Obama’s Pentagon appearance.
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