Obama admits: We ‘underestimated’ ISIS threat

He also admitted that Washington had overestimated Iraq's U.S. trained military to fight militants

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President Barack Obama admitted Sunday in that the United States underestimated the opportunity a war-torn Syria would provide for the comeback of extremist militant groups.

In an interview with CBS News taped Friday, Obama branded Iraq and Syria as “ground zero for jihadists around the world,” where he said al-Qaeda fighters have fled after being driven out by U.S. and Iraqi forces.

Infographic: Countries in the anti-ISIS coalition

Infographic: Countries in the anti-ISIS coaliion
Infographic: Countries in the anti-ISIS coaliion

“I think our head of the intelligence community, Jim Clapper, has acknowledged that they underestimated what had been taking place in Syria,” Obama said on the 60 Minutes news show, referring to his director of national intelligence.

Asked whether Washington has also overestimated the ability or will of Iraq’s U.S.-trained military to fight the militants on its own, Obama said: “That’s true. That’s absolutely true.”

Obama said Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) propagandists had become “very savvy” in their use of social media, and had lured new recruits “who believed in their jihadist nonsense” from Europe, America and Australia, as well as from Muslim majority countries.

In related news, fresh U.S.-led strikes hit ISIS targets in Syria overnight, both in its Raqa province stronghold and in Aleppo province further west, a monitoring group said on Monday.

The coalition strikes hit militant targets outside Raqa city, the de facto headquarters of ISIS in Syria, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

They also hit targets around the town of Minbej, east of second city Aleppo that reportedly included ISIS-controlled grain silos, said the Britain-based group, which has a wide network of sources inside Syria

Contradictory policy

While Obama said that U.S.-led air strikes in Iraq are helping deny ISIS vital territory and resources, he said the military campaign against the group and al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria is helping Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, a man the United Nations has accused of war crimes.

“I recognize the contradiction in a contradictory land and a contradictory circumstance,” Obama said.

“We are not going to stabilize Syria under the rule of Assad… whose government has committed “terrible atrocities,” Obama said.

“On the other hand, in terms of immediate threats to the United States, ISIL [ISIS], Khorasan Group - those folks could kill Americans,” he added.

The U.S. Commander in Chief also said that it was in U.S. interest to battle ISIS as “represents sort of a hybrid of not just the terrorist network, but one with territorial ambitions, and some of the strategy and tactics of an army.”

He continued: “This is not America against ISIL. This is America leading the international community to assist a country with whom we have a security partnership with, to make sure that they are able to take care of their business.”

Political reforms

The U.S. president said that part of the solution to defeat ISIS would be for Syria and Iraq to resolve their domestic political crises.

An enduring solution, Obama said, requires “a change in how not just Iraq, but countries like Syria and some of the other countries in the region, think about what political accommodation means.”

Some countries in the region, the president said, “have now created an environment in which young men are more concerned whether they’re Shia or Sunni, rather than whether they are getting a good education or whether they are able to, you know, have a good job.”

[With AFP and AP]

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