The United States underestimated the spread of the Islamic State militant group in war-torn Syria and overestimated the Iraqi military’s capacity to fight the extremists, President Barack Obama said.
In an interview with CBS’s “60 Minutes,” Obama portrayed the group’s rise as a result of the lawlessness of Syria, large parts of which have fallen out of the government’s hands during the 3-year-old civil war there.
“Over the past couple of years during the chaos of the Syrian civil war. . .they were able to reconstitute themselves and take advantage of that chaos and attract foreign fighters,” Obama said in the interview. Syria “became ground zero for jihadists from around the world.”
Islamic State began as an al-Qaida offshoot, but its brutal tactics against other Muslims whom it considers heretics are so savage that al-Qaida’s leaders disavowed the group this year. After the group’s rapid takeover this year of large parts of Syria and Iraq and its beheadings of two American journalists, the U.S. began leading airstrikes against the militants, first in Iraq and, in recent days, in Syria.
Breaking the Islamic State’s hold must involve both military and political efforts, Obama said.
Militarily, he said, “we just have to push them back. . .and go after their command and control and their capacity and their weapons and their fueling and cut off their financing and work to eliminate the flow of foreign fighters.”