Wed, Dec 16, 2015 - Page 7 News List

US commandos on mission in Syria: Obama


US President Barack Obama on Monday vowed to accelerate the US-led military campaign against the Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq, implicitly acknowledging that progress has been too slow as the extremist group expands its reach with deadly attacks beyond the Middle East.

Speaking at the US Pentagon after meeting with the National Security Council, Obama revealed that a group of US special operations commandos has begun working with local fighters in Syria to “tighten the squeeze” on Raqqa, the extremists’ nominal capital.

He cited this as an example of aggressive new action, in addition to an intensified bombing of the oil infrastructure in Syria that provides much of the Islamic State group’s revenue.

The administration in late October announced that Obama had approved sending up to 50 special operations troops to Syria on the first open-ended mission by US ground forces in the nation.

Until now, US officials had refused to say whether the US commandos had begun their mission.

The strategy is moving ahead with “a great sense of urgency,” Obama said, an assertion that critics say belies the slow pace of progress in Iraq and Syria.

Drawing an implied contrast with military prescriptions offered by US Republican presidential candidates, including Senator Ted Cruz’s call to “carpet bomb them into oblivion,” Obama said: “We have to be smart, targeting ISIL [the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant] surgically, with precision” airstrikes while local forces undertake the ground combat.

As US national security takes center stage in the presidential race, Obama also is hoping to counter US Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump and his inflammatory remarks about Muslims, which Obama believes endanger national security.

During a conference call on Monday with religious leaders, top White House officials pledged vigilance by the US Department of Justice in pursuing hate crimes and other civil rights violations, calling an attack on any faith an attack on all faiths.

Obama’s aides were also holding separate meetings at the White House with Muslim leaders and Sikh leaders.

The president’s appearance at the Pentagon was part of a week-long push to explain his strategy for stopping the Islamic State group abroad and its sympathizers in the US.

Obama is scheduled to attend a briefing at the US National Counterterrorism Center on Thursday.

US Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter on Monday departed for Turkey and the Middle East to seek more coalition military contributions to the counter-Islamic State campaign, Obama said.

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