By Matt Spetalnick
BELEK, Turkey (Reuters) – U.S. President Barack Obama on Monday ruled out a shift in strategy in the fight against the Islamic State despite the deadly attacks in Paris last week, saying putting U.S. troops on the ground to combat the group “would be a mistake.”
Obama, speaking after a G20 leaders’ summit in Turkey, said the U.S.-led coalition fighting Islamic State in Iraq and Syria would redouble efforts to implement the current strategy rather than moving in a new direction, even as the militants threatened to strike Washington.
“We are going to continue the strategy that has the best chance of working,” Obama told a news conference.
“This is not a traditional military opponent. We can retake territory and as long as we keep our troops there we can hold it. But that does not solve the underlying problem of eliminating the dynamics that are producing these kinds of violent, extremist groups,” he added.
The U.S. president said avoiding sending American troops into Iraq and Syria to take on Islamic State directly “is not just my view, but the view of my closest military and civilian advisers.”
“There will be an intensification of the strategy that we put forward but the strategy that we put forward is the strategy that ultimately is going to work,” Obama said.
He said the key was to resolve the political crisis in Syria that has fueled years of civil war and at the same time to reduce the size of territory over which Islamic State holds sway, handing it over to local forces who can hold it and keep the group out over the long term.
“That ultimately is what is going to make a difference and it’s going to take time,” the U.S. leader said.
Obama said the coordinated attacks that killed 129 people in Paris on Friday were a setback in the fight against Islamic State, but he insisted the U.S.-led coalition was making progress in bringing down the militant group, which overran parts of Syria and Iraq last year.
He said U.S. intelligence agencies have been concerned about a potential attack on the West by Islamic State militants for over a year but they did not pick up specific threats about an attack on Paris that would have enabled officials there to respond effectively to deter the assault.
“There were no specific mentions of this particular attack that would give us a sense of something that we could provide French authorities, for example, or act on ourselves,” he said.
The Paris attacks prompted France to intensify aerial strikes on Raqqa, Syria, the Islamic State’s stronghold.
The group warned in a new video on Monday that countries taking part in air strikes against Syria would suffer the same fate as France, and threatened to target Washington.
Obama pushed back against Republican critics who say he has not been forceful enough in dealing with Islamic State militants, saying very few of his opponents were offering specific plans to deal with the problem.
“If folks want to pop off and have opinions about what they think they would do, present a specific plan,” Obama said. “If they think that somehow their advisers are better than the chairman of my Joint Chiefs of Staff and the folks who are actually on the ground … we can have that debate.”
(Reporting by Matt Spetalnick; Writing by Tim Ahmann and David Alexander; Editing by Alistair Bell)
Photo: U.S. President Barack Obama addresses a news conference following a working session at the Group of 20 (G20) leaders summit in the Mediterranean resort city of Antalya, Turkey, November 16, 2015. (REUTERS/Umit Bektas )