President Obama will make a rare trip to the Pentagon on Monday to talk with his defense secretary and top generals about the fight against the Islamic State.
The visit will mark the beginning of a week in which the president will focus heavily on the terrorism threat to the United States during the holiday season and heightened worries nationwide about the threat terrorists pose.
Obama was last at the Pentagon in July, when pressed the military for more options to intensify the fight in Iraq and Syria to take back territory seized by the radical Islamic group. That visit came two months after the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, seized the city of Ramadi in western Iraq and amid concerns that the group was gaining momentum.
Once again, following recent terrorist attacks in San Bernardino, Calif., and Paris, Obama faces widespread questions about whether he has devoted enough resources to defeating ISIS, which still controls large portions of Iraq and Syria.
This time, White House officials are portraying Obama’s visit, which will include the president’s entire top national security team, as a periodic update for him.
“If there is an opportunity for us to intensify efforts behind one aspect of our strategy, that’s something he wants his team to be prepared to do,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest said.
Before the attacks in Paris last month, Obama boosted the number of U.S. warplanes in Turkey and ordered a small contingent of Special Operations forces to move into northern Syria to help the moderate opposition there take key terrain from ISIS. The Pentagon also has stepped up airstrikes on the Islamic State’s oil infrastructure, which is a key source of revenue for the group, and recently dispatched a 200-member Special Operations task force to Iraq to target ISIS’s senior leadership.
But Obama has declined to further escalate the fight in Iraq by sending in Apache helicopters and Special Operations ground advisers to fight alongside front-line Iraqi units and call in airstrikes.
Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter said last week that the United States was prepared to send in the accompanying advisers and attack helicopters if Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi requested them for the fight to retake Ramadi. But White House officials said that Obama hasn’t approved such measures.
Senior White House officials have said they wanted to make sure the Iraqis had the right leaders and sufficient forces in place for the Ramadi battle before the United States devoted additional resources to it. The approaches to the city have been heavily mined by ISIS fighters and progress to retake the city has been perilously slow. U.S. officials said there has been some progress in the past two weeks, which could bolster the case of those arguing for more U.S. support.
Obama will travel to the National Counterterrorism Center on Thursday for a threat briefing just before leaving Washington for his annual two-week Hawaii vacation. Earnest said that the president meets with his top counterterrorism experts around this time every year, but that “obviously there’s heightened awareness” ahead of this year’s holiday season.
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