“This became ground zero for jihadists around the world,” he said in an interview with CBS’s 60 Minutes, according to an excerpt aired by the network on Sunday.
The president said Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, was able to attract former members of Saddam Hussein’s military in Iraq who brought a more sophisticated military strategy to the movement.
This “gave them some traditional military capacity and not just terrorist capacity,” Mr. Obama said, adding that it was “absolutely true” that the U.S. overestimated the ability and willingness of the new Iraqi government to push back against Islamic State.
The U.S. and international partners, particularly in the Middle East, would have to come up with political solutions in Iraq and Syria, Mr. Obama said.
But the near-term plan was to destabilize Islamic State.
“We just have to push them back and shrink their space and go after their command and control…and work to eliminate the flow of foreign fighters,” he said.
The full 60 Minutes interview is slated to air Sunday evening.
“We’ve been clear that there will not be a U.S. ground invasion of Iraq or Syria,” he said. He left the door open, however, to the idea that a no-fly zone could be established over Syria at some point.
On ABC News “This Week,” House Speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio) indicated thatsending in American combat troops could become necessary to eliminate the Islamic State threat.
While Mr. Obama has said that he opposes sending U.S. ground troops into combat against Islamic State, Mr. Boehner suggested that such troops might be needed if the international coalition can’t defeat the militants.
“At some point, somebody’s boots have to be on the ground,” Mr. Boehner said. So far the White House and its allies have deployed airstrikes against the militants and are preparing to train pro-Western Syrian rebels to fight on the ground.
Earlier this month, Congress authorized the White House to train and equip those rebels. But many Republicans have said they aren’t persuaded that the administration’s strategy will be forceful enough to eradicate the danger posed by the militants.
“Maybe we can get enough of these forces trained and get them on the battlefield,” Mr. Boehner said.
But if the international coalition doesn’t come together, “we have no choice,” Mr. Boehner said of the possibility of sending in U.S. fighters. “These are barbarians. They intend to kill us. And if we don’t destroy them first, we’re going to pay the price.”