WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama will begin laying out a strategy this week to defeat Islamic State militants in the Middle East, meeting with congressional leaders Tuesday and giving a speech Wednesday, the eve of the 13th anniversary of the deadliest terrorist attack on U.S. soil.
Obama disclosed his plans during an interview broadcast Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
“I just want the American people to understand the nature of the threat and how we’re going to deal with it and to have confidence that we’ll be able to deal with it,” he said in the interview conducted Saturday at the White House shortly after his return from a NATO summit in Wales where the Islamic State threat was a key topic of discussion.
Obama restated his opposition to sending U.S. ground troops to engage in direct combat with the militants, who have laid claim to large swaths of territory in Iraq, targeted religious and ethnic minority groups, and threatened U.S. personnel and interests in the region.
At Obama’s direction, the U.S. military has conducted more than 130 airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Iraq in the past month. In retaliation, the group recently beheaded two American journalists it had been holding hostage in Syria, where the organization also operates.
Lawmakers have pressed Obama to expand the airstrikes into Syria. He has resisted so far, but said he has asked his military advisers for options for pursuing the group there.
In the interview, Obama said the U.S. would not go after the Islamic State group alone, but would operate as part of an international coalition and continue airstrikes to support ground efforts that would be carried out by Iraqi and Kurdish troops.
At the NATO summit, the U.S. and nine allies agreed to take on the militants because of the threat they pose to member countries.
Obama’s emerging strategy depends on the formation of a new government in Iraq, as well as cooperation and contributions from regional partners, including Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Turkey. Obama said he expected the Iraqi government to be formed this week.
“What I want people to understand … is that over the course of months, we are going to be able to not just blunt the momentum of ISIL,” he said, using an alternate name for the group. “We are going to systematically degrade their capabilities. We’re going to shrink the territory that they control. And ultimately we’re going to defeat them.”
Obama said his administration has seen no intelligence that suggests an immediate threat to the U.S. from the Islamic State group. But he said the militants can become a serious threat to the homeland if they are allowed to control even more territory and amass more financial and other resources, including foreign fighters.
Last month, while vacationing on the Massachusetts island of Martha’s Vineyard, Obama was criticized for heading to the golf course minutes after he appeared in public to angrily denounce the Islamic State militants for the videotaped killing of American journalist James Foley.
Asked whether he wanted a do-over by new “Meet the Press” host Chuck Todd, Obama said that, while there will always be tough news somewhere, he “should’ve anticipated the optics” of immediately going to play golf after delivering that statement in which he said he had just gotten off the phone with Foley’s parents.
But Obama said the more important question is whether he is getting the policies right and whether he is protecting the American people and, on that score, he said “I think I’ve done a very good job during the course of these last, close to six years.”
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