WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama vowed Thursday that the Islamic State is “inevitably going to be defeated,” but he predicted that the terrorist networks it spawns are likely to continue operating after the group loses its major strongholds in Iraq and Syria.
Saying that recent battlefield defeats have shown that the Islamic State is “not invincible,” Obama outlined a strategy to use a recently recaptured air base in Iraq as a hub for U.S.-backed Iraqi forces to “push into Mosul,” the major northern Iraqi city that the militants seized in 2014.
Obama made the remarks in a news conference at the Pentagon after meeting with his national security team to discuss the fight against the Islamic State. He is scheduled to leave Saturday for a vacation with his family on Martha’s Vineyard through Aug. 21.
At the Defense Department, Obama conferred with top military and national security officials to assess the battle. Also attending were Vice President Joe Biden, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, CIA Director John Brennan and other top officials.
Asked whether he had qualms about Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump receiving classified intelligence briefings, Obama said his administration would “go by the law” and tradition in delivering the briefings to Trump so that in the event he won the election, he “would not be starting from scratch” in getting up to speed on national security matters. But he also cautioned that those who aspire to the White House “need to start acting like a president” and ensure that secrets are kept.
Earlier this week, the Pentagon disclosed that the United States conducted airstrikes on an Islamic State stronghold in Sirte, Libya, in a significant expansion of the American campaign against the group, which is also known as ISIS or ISIL.
Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook said Monday that Libya’s Western-backed unity government requested the air support as its forces battled to reclaim the Mediterranean coastal city, which became an important Islamic State stronghold after militants seized it last year.
While the Islamic State has been losing territory in Iraq and Syria, eroding the self-proclaimed “caliphate” that it wants to expand across a wide swath of the Middle East, Africa and Asia, the group has demonstrated an ability to direct or inspire terrorist attacks in Western countries, including the United States, France and Belgium, as well as in Turkey, a NATO ally, and war-torn Iraq and Afghanistan.
According to U.S. officials, the Islamic State’s affiliate in Libya has emerged as its most powerful branch. Yet, U.S. airstrikes have been limited there. In November, a strike targeted the group’s leader in Libya, Wisam al-Zubaidi, a former Iraqi police officer also known as Abu Nabil al-Anbari, and Pentagon officials said they believe he was killed.