Defeating ISIL will take time and a unified global effort and can be done, said President Barack Obama:
“This is a long-term campaign. ISIL is opportunistic, and it is nimble. In many places in Syria and Iraq, including urban areas, it’s dug in among innocent civilian populations. It will take time to root them out. And doing so must be the job of local forces on the ground, with training and air support from our coalition.”
On the military front, the U.S.- led coalition of some 60 nations, including Arab partners, has hit ISIL with more than 5,000 airstrikes, taking out thousands of fighting positions, tanks, and training camps, and eliminating thousands of fighters. ISIL has lost more than a quarter of the populated areas it had seized in Iraq, and recently endured losses across northern Syria.
ISIL’s losses show that its strategic weaknesses are real, said President Obama: “ISIL is surrounded by countries and communities committed to its destruction…It is backed by no nation…Its unrestrained brutality often alienates those under its rule, creating new enemies.”
But ISIL’s reign of terror will end only when the military force against it is “matched by a broader effort, political and economic, that addresses the underlying conditions that have allowed ISIL to gain traction,” Mr. Obama said. In Iraq, that includes rebuilding security and helping Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi forge an inclusive government that unites all Iraqis; in Syria, it means establishing a political transition to a new government without Bashar al-Assad that serves all Syrians.
President Obama noted that the ISIL threat has extended beyond Iraq and Syria, and that defeating its destructive ideology cannot rely simply on a military effort, but must ultimately be defeated “by better ideas, more attractive and more compelling vision.”
The larger battle for hearts and minds is a generational struggle to be won by the countries and communities that terrorists like ISIL target. “It’s going to be up to Muslim communities…to keep rejecting warped interpretations of Islam,” said Mr. Obama; “to all people…to reject the sectarianism that so often fuels resentments and conflicts;…to governments to address the political and economic grievances that terrorists exploit; to nations that empower citizens to decide their own destiny [and] that uphold human rights for all their people.”
“Those can be powerful antidotes to extremist ideologies,” said President Obama. “Those are the countries that will find a true partner in the United States.”