Al-Qaida-inspired militants who have violently seized territory in Iraq could grow in power and destabilize other countries in the region, President Barack Obama warned Sunday.
The Iraqi public will ultimately reject the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, the extremist Sunni group threatening Iraq's government, but the group still represents a medium and long-term threat to the United States, Obama said.
"We're going to have to be vigilant generally. Right now the problem with ISIS is the fact that they're destabilizing the country," Obama said, using a common acronym for the group. "That could spill over into some of our allies like Jordan."
The Sunni insurgency in Iraq and neighboring Syria is just one of an array of threats the U.S. must guard against, Obama said in an interview recorded Friday and airing Sunday on CBS' "Face the Nation." He pointed to the group Boko Haram in north Africa and al-Qaida groups in Yemen that he said also demand the attention of the U.S. and its partners.
"What we can't do is think that we're just going to play whack-a-mole and send US troops occupying various countries wherever these organizations pop up," Obama said. "We're going to have to have a more focused, more targeted strategy and we're going to have to partner and train local law enforcement and military to do their jobs as well."
Obama's comments came as U.S. lawmakers and officials within his own administration are grappling with the best way to address the growing insurgency in Iraq just years after American troops pulled out. As bloody sectarian violence breaks out once again in Iraq, a president who opposed the Iraq war and vowed to end it is finding the U.S. being lured back into the conflict by the deteriorating security situation.
Obama has announced plans to send 300 special operations forces into Iraq to train its military, but insists the U.S. military can't effectively quell the conflict unless Iraq's own Shiite-led government pursues a more inclusive approach that doesn't shun the Sunni minority.
The issue has divided Congress, with some lawmakers criticizing Obama for doing too little and others warning the return of armed troops to Iraq could be the first step toward pulling the U.S. back into the conflict.
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