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POLITICS: PennAve

Pentagon pressed on why there's no strategy to defeat ISIS

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Politics,The Pentagon,Barack Obama,Iraq,National Security,Syria,PennAve,Terrorism,Charles Hoskinson,ISIS

President Obama's gaffe Thursday that "we don't have a strategy" for a broader fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria is putting pressure on the Pentagon as reporters ask: Why not?

"The question presumes that we're not doing anything, that there's no sense of urgency in the Pentagon. And you and I both know that's not true," Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby said Friday after being pressed on the issue.

"We have upped our military presence in the Persian Gulf. We've intensified surveillance flights over Iraq. We have conducted nearly 110 — and maybe 110 while I'm talking to you — airstrikes inside Iraq.

"Believe me, this building and the United States military shares the same sense of urgency over the situation in Iraq and the threat that [ISIS] poses. There's no doubt or debate about that."

Those operations are costing an average of $7.5 million a day, which are being financed from fiscal 2014 overseas contingency operations funds, Kirby said.

But the Islamist extremist group also operates in Syria, and the administration has not settled on a means to keep that country from becoming a safe haven for its fighters.

The president acknowledged as much in a news conference Thursday.

"Our focus right now is to protect American personnel on the ground in Iraq, to protect our embassy, to protect our consulates, to make sure that critical infrastructure that could adversely affect our personnel is protected," Obama said.

He said he had asked Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and the Joint Chiefs of Staff for options, and made clear that those options must include participation by partners in the region and a political process that would lead to a stable government in Damascus.

It's not just reporters asking why this process is taking so long. Obama has been under pressure from congressional Republicans for months to come up with a comprehensive strategy to defeat, rather than just contain, the threat from ISIS, which he has called a "cancer."

Kirby said Pentagon study of options in Syria was an "ongoing effort" and officials would be ready to share them when needed and execute them if necessary.

"Anybody who has any knowledge of the United States military knows that we're ready. We're ready all the time," he said.

The Daily Beast reported Thursday that disagreements among the president's national security team — rather than a lack of options — may be holding up efforts to expand the fight against ISIS into Syria.

Meanwhile, a new Pew Research Center poll shows that ISIS may be shaking Americans out of their war-weariness, with 54 percent of respondents saying Obama is not being tough enough on national security — only 3 percent higher than in November, but 13 points higher than in September 2012, when many believed that Islamist extremism was waning.

The Aug. 20-24 telephone poll of 1,501 adults had a margin of error of plus or minus 2.9 percentage points.

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