A year after issuing a call to world leaders to come up with concrete steps to defeat the Islamic State militant group, U.S. President Barack Obama was back Tuesday at the United Nations, with a progress report and a message that the fight will be neither easy nor short.
Chairing the Leaders’ Summit on Countering ISIL (IS) and Violent Extremism on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly, Obama said more than 100 nations and institutions have answered the call as part of a global movement united behind a mission of destroying the extremist group.
He announced that Nigeria, Tunisia and Malaysia have joined the more than 60-member U.S.-led coalition fighting the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, in what he called a long-term campaign that will involve both successes and setbacks.
“I have repeatedly said that our approach will take time, this is not an easy task,” Obama said. “We have ISIL taking root in areas that already are suffering from failed governance, in some cases, civil war or sectarian strife.”
The president said the Islamic State has been able to “dig in” in areas where there is a security vacuum, and he acknowledged the group’s effectiveness in using social media to recruit new followers.
At the summit, Obama said while the Islamic State continues to hold Fallujah, Mosul and Ramadi, it has lost a third of the territory it once held. He called not just for military action, but political will in defeating the group, praising Iraq’s prime minister for taking steps to build a more inclusive and accountable government.
As for Syria, Obama repeated the message in his U.N. General Assembly address the day before – a political transition in the country away from President Bashar al-Assad.
“Defeating ISIL requires, I believe, a new leader and an inclusive government that unites the Syrian people in the fight against terrorist groups,” Obama said.
“This is going to be a complex process and, as I have said before, we are prepared to work with all countries, including Russia and Iran, to find a political mechanism in which it is possible to begin a transition process.”
In Syria, the president said recent new support from Turkey has allowed the coalition to intensify its air campaign, cutting off the militant group from the Turkey-Syria border – a critical step, he said, toward stemming foreign fighters.
On Tuesday, the United States announced sanctions against 25 people and five groups connected to the Islamic State, with an aim of disrupting the militant group's access to the international financial system.
Fighting ISIL with ideas
The president repeated Tuesday what he has said before – the need to confront the roots of the Islamic State and other extremist groups.
“It is not going to be enough to defeat in the battlefield, we have to prevent it from radicalizing, recruiting and inspiring others to violence in the first place,” Obama said. “This means defeating their ideology. Ideologies are not defeated with guns, they are defeated by better ideas.”
The U.S. president said nations were stepping up efforts to fight Islamic State propaganda online. Obama also praised Muslim leaders for countering the militant group’s message and “its warped interpretation of Islam.”
Obama urged world leaders to address political and economic grievances that often are exploited by extremists.
“As we have seen across the Middle East and North Africa, when people, especially young people, are impoverished, and hopeless and feel humiliated by injustice and corruption — that can fuel resentments that terrorists exploit,” said Obama.
The U.S. president ended his remarks Tuesday with a call for nations to build “true partnerships” with Muslim communities based on trust and cooperation to prevent people from becoming radicalized.
“We have to commit ourselves to build diverse, tolerant, inclusive societies that reject anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant bigotry that creates the divisions, the fear, and the resentments upon which extremists can prey,” he said.