Obama Reports Gains, and ‘Momentum,’ Against ISIS


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President Obama speaking after a meeting with his National Security Council at C.I.A. headquarters in Langley, Va., on Wednesday.

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Doug Mills/The New York Times

WASHINGTON — President Obama said on Wednesday that while the Islamic State could still “inflict horrific violence on the innocent,” the United States had made substantial gains in combating the group, reducing its forces to the lowest level in two years and squeezing its cash flow.

“We have momentum, and we intend to keep that momentum,” Mr. Obama said after meeting with a broad group of national security officials at the headquarters of the Central Intelligence Agency in Langley, Va. “The ISIL core in Syria and Iraq continues to shrink.”

The meeting was one in a series of high-level gatherings Mr. Obama has convened outside the White House to take stock of the United States-led effort against the Sunni extremist group, also known as ISIS and ISIL, and to plot strategy for the months ahead. It was the first of those meetings since the bombings in Brussels last month, which killed 32 people and injured 300 more, the latest demonstration of the organization’s continuing ability to attack Western capitals far from its base in Syria and Iraq.

Mr. Obama said the attacks were intended to “weaken our collective resolve.”

“Once again, they have failed,” he added. “Their barbarism only stiffens our unity and determination to wipe this vile terrorist organization off the face of the earth.”

Mr. Obama has faced criticism for his approach, mostly from Republicans who argue that he has been too restrained in using military force to destroy the Islamic State and insufficiently concerned about the threat it poses. On Wednesday, he sought to demonstrate the intensity of his focus on the issue, citing the number of top leaders who have been killed, the battlefield gains in Iraq and Syria, and the setbacks inflicted on the oil production that provides the Islamic State with its main source of money as evidence of the progress the United States and its allies have made against the group.

“Their ranks of fighters are estimated to be at their lowest levels in about two years, and more and more of them are realizing that their cause is lost,” Mr. Obama said. “Our cyberoperations are disrupting their command and control and communications. We continue to target ISIL’s financial infrastructure.”

Mr. Obama said American-led forces were also continuing to go after remnants of Al Qaeda “that still pose a significant threat to U.S. interests, our allies and the homeland,” and trying to prevent foreign fighters from entering Europe to carry out attacks.

“We’re sending a message: If you target Americans, you have no safe haven — we will find you,” Mr. Obama said. “Our intelligence professionals and those of other nations have stopped numerous terrorist operatives in Syria and Iraq from entering Europe, thereby preventing attacks and gaining valuable intelligence.”

“The world does not always hear about” these operations, Mr. Obama added.

The president, who has drawn criticism for saying the Islamic State does not pose an existential threat to the United States, used the appearance to press that case.

“In the face of terrorists who try to spread panic, we have to refuse to give in to fear,” Mr. Obama said. “We’ve prevailed over much greater threats.”

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