WASHINGTON, Dec. 14 (UPI) — President Barack Obama on Monday said the Islamic State has lost thousands of square miles of territory in Iraq and Syria as the U.S. military effort against the militant Islamist group continues.
Obama spoke at the Pentagon after meeting with national security advisers, including Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter, on the subject of the Islamic State, also known as Daesh, ISIS or ISIL.
“I want to provide all of you a brief update on our progress against the ISIL core in Syria and Iraq because as we squeeze its heart, we’ll make it harder for ISIL to pump its terror and propaganda to the rest of the world,” Obama said.
“This continues to be a difficult fight. As I said before, ISIL is dug in, including in urban areas, and they hide behind civilians, using defenseless men, women and children as human shields. So even as we’re relentless, we have to be smart — targeting ISIL surgically with precision.”
Obama said the military campaign against the Islamic State is “moving forward with a great sense of urgency.”
The U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State has greatly damaged the group’s militant and financial infrastructure, by striking targets such as weapons depots and oil refineries, Obama said.
“We are hitting ISIL harder than ever. Coalition aircraft, our fighters, bombers and drones, have been increasing the pace of their strikes — nearly 9,000 as of today,” Obama said. “Last month in November, we dropped more bombs on ISIL targets than any other month since this campaign started.”
“We’re also taking out ISIL leaders, commanders and killers, one by one,” Obama said, before listing a number of recently killed IS leaders such as finance chief Abu Saleh.
“The point is ISIL leaders cannot hide and our next message to them is simple ‘You are next,'” Obama said. “In fact, since the summer, ISIL has not had a single successful major offensive operation on the ground in either Syria or Iraq.”
Obama said Carter will be traveling to the Middle East to speak with coalition partners about how they and other international actors can increase their support in the fight against the Islamic State. Secretary of State John Kerry will be traveling to Russia as part of ongoing efforts to seek a solution for the Syrian civil war.
“So far ISIL has lost about 40 percent of the populated areas it once controlled in Iraq, and it will lose more,” Obama said, adding that Iraqi military forces are working toward retaking Ramadi, Fallujah and Mosul — all urban areas where the Islamic State is “entrenched.”
“ISIL has lost thousands of square miles of territory it once controlled in Syria and it will lose more,” Obama said. “Meanwhile, more people are seeing ISIL for the thugs and the thieves and the killers that they are.”
Obama’s statement follows the Dec. 2 San Bernardino mass shooting in Southern California, where a husband and wife, Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik, killed 14 people at a county health department holiday party. The couple reportedly shared radical Islamist sentiments and supported the Islamic State.
The Islamic State coordinated attacks in Paris that left 130 people dead have renewed international discussions on how to solve the Syrian crisis.
Syria has been blighted by a complex civil war in which the Islamic State, the Syrian government and multiple Syrian rebel groups fight for control of territory, causing a mass exodus of migrants seeking refuge elsewhere.
More than 3 million Syrians have fled to Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq and more than 1 million have reached several countries of the European Union, creating a migrant crisis that’s straining economies attempting to cope with the influx of asylum-seekers.