Barack Obama insists anti-terror strategy is 'breaking the back' of Islamic State

Barack Obama insists anti-terror strategy is 'breaking the back' of Islamic State

President Barack Obama said the fight he has led against Islamic State has been relentless, sustainable and multilateral.

Speaking at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida, in his last major national security speech before leaving office, Mr Obama said the action demonstrates a shift in how the US takes on terrorists around the world.

He noted that he is poised to become the first president to serve two full terms at war, and defended a counter-terrorism strategy that has relied on US special forces and local groups rather than large-scale American ground forces.

The US has built a "network of partners" to help fight extremists and it is "breaking the back" of IS, he said.

His speech at the home of US Special Operations Command came as allies and foes alike await a potentially dramatic shift in American strategy towards addressing extremist threats overseas after Donald Trump takes office.

Before taking to the stage for his speech, Mr Obama told about 250 US service members gathered in a gym that it had been the privilege of his lifetime to serve as their commander-in-chief.

"I have been consistently in awe of your performance and the way you carried out your missions," Mr Obama said.

For the outgoing president, who came into office telling a war-weary nation he would wind down two wars and prevent new ones, the inclination towards smaller-scale, limited military involvement was a natural extension of his foreign policy philosophy. White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Mr Obama had believed that large troop presences in Iraq and Afghanistan were unsustainable.

"The strategy that President Obama has put in place is more effective, it keeps us safe, it has fewer American men and women in harm's way, and it costs American taxpayers a lot less," Mr Earnest said.

But Mr Obama's approach has most notably come up short in Syria, where he long ago predicted that US-backed forces would eventually prevail over Syrian president Bashar Assad. But Assad's grip on power appears stronger than it has in years while the brutal civil war continues to rage.

Mr Trump has said little about how he intends to shift course in Syria and whether he would continue Mr Obama's strategy in other regions destabilised by extremist groups. He has argued that ambiguity and unpredictability are assets that deny the enemy a chance to plan ahead.

Still, all signs suggest he will pursue a more muscular, military-driven approach to extremist groups like the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.

Mr Trump has argued that Mr Obama's decision to withdraw the bulk of troops from Iraq, rather than negotiating harder with Baghdad to leave some there, created a power vacuum that allowed IS to form and seize territory.

During the presidential campaign, he said he would listen to top military officers about the need for ground troops to fight IS, at one point floating a figure of 20,000 to 30,000. Meanwhile, he has suggested that ousting Assad is not a top priority and that closer alignment between the US and Russia, which backs Assad, would be positive.

In the absence of more details from Mr Trump, attention has turned to the advisers he has selected to form his team, including retired General Michael T Flynn, tapped for national security adviser.

Gen Flynn, who has attracted controversy over his comments critical of Islam, has urged a far more aggressive military campaign against IS.

Mr Obama was promoting the benefits of his more limited approach on Tuesday.

Under his leadership, the number of US troops in Iraq and Afghanistan has dropped from roughly 180,000 to 15,000 today, according to deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes.

Meanwhile, the US has been able to take out key al-Qaida leaders, most notably Obama bin Laden, and has started edging the Islamic State group out of strongholds like Mosul in Iraq and Raqqa in Syria.

AP

More on this topic

Terror suspect held at Heathrow after Turkey deports British IS suspectTerror suspect held at Heathrow after Turkey deports British IS suspect

Israel kills Islamic Jihad commander in Gaza attackIsrael kills Islamic Jihad commander in Gaza attack

Irish IS bride faces delay on way homeIrish IS bride faces delay on way home

Briton who went to fight Islamic State jailed for four yearsBriton who went to fight Islamic State jailed for four years

More in this Section

Smoke shrouds Sydney’s skyline as wildfires burn nearbySmoke shrouds Sydney’s skyline as wildfires burn nearby

Andrew project suffers sponsorship blow amid Epstein statement callsAndrew project suffers sponsorship blow amid Epstein statement calls

Medics to get day-in-the-life experience of bowel disease patientsMedics to get day-in-the-life experience of bowel disease patients

‘Wearable glucose monitors may benefit people with diabetes and memory problems’‘Wearable glucose monitors may benefit people with diabetes and memory problems’


Lifestyle

The ribbed fabric is having a fashion moment, says Katie Wright.Get on board with cord: 5 of the best pinafore dresses and how to style them

Columnist and trained counsellor Fiona Caine advises a woman whose future mother-in-law isn’t happy with her decision not to have kids.Ask a counsellor: ‘Why can’t my fiancé’s mother accept that I don’t want children?’

Vincent Thurkettle, author of The Wood Fire Handbook, talks to Luke Rix-Standing about one of our best-loved simple pleasures – the log fire.Burning love: Why are roaring wood fires so endlessly appealing?

Students have nothing to be anxious about with their CAO 2020, just follow this easy video guide with Trish McGrath, Principal of Hewitt CollegeTen tips to completing CAO 2020 applications online, plus a short video guide for students

More From The Irish Examiner