Kicking off one of his regular meetings with the nation’s military leaders at the White House yesterday, President Barack Obama stressed the importance of capabilities in defense strategy and commented on the effort to counter the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.
The president met with Defense Secretary Ash Carter, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the commanders of the military’s combatant commands.
“These meetings are always an opportunity for me to review our defense strategy broadly, the priorities in the budget that can realize that strategy, and, most importantly, it gives us an opportunity to talk about our incredible men and women in uniform and the sacrifices they make, and the help of the force in making sure we’re doing right by them,” he said.
The president noted that earlier in the day, Carter spoke about the need to make sure the Defense Department is fully organized and has all the tools that it needs to meet a wide range of emerging threats, and said he is pleased that last year’s budget agreement provided relief from sequestration spending cuts.
“Those were some harmful cuts on both the defense and the non-defense side,” he said. “But because of that relief and building on that, the budget that has been proposed makes sure that we’re investing in our national security, our global leadership and our economic security here at home.”
The nation is investing in capabilities the military needs to deter aggression and provide security for the United States and its allies, the president said. “And this includes increases in our posture in Europe to reassure our NATO allies in light of particularly increased aggressive actions by Russia,” he added. “It allows us to enhance our maritime cooperation in the Asia-Pacific. It allows us to boost cybersecurity, which is going to be an increasing threat that has to be addressed. It allows us to invest in the future of our force, support our military families, and make sure that our technological edge is maintained relative to forces all around the world.”
Obama said the meeting provided an opportunity to review the military campaign against ISIL. “And although he is not here — because today was his retirement ceremony — I think this is a great opportunity to salute [Army Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III],” the president said. “He served our nation in uniform for nearly 41 years, including his repeated tours in Iraq. As commander of Central Command, he oversaw the operations from Afghanistan to Iraq and our campaign against ISIL. He did an outstanding job in every single assignment that he received. We are profoundly grateful to General Austin, his wife, Charlene, and the entire Austin family.”
Accelerating the Counter-ISIL Campaign
Centcom’s new commander, Army Gen. Joseph L. Votel, brings his “incredible skill and dedication” to the job from his most recent prior assignment, heading up U.S. Special Operations Command, Obama said. “We are working to make sure that we’re accelerating the campaign against ISIL,” he added. “In Syria and Iraq, ISIL continues to lose ground. Coalition forces recently severed the main highway between ISIL’s strongholds at Raqqa, Syria and Mosul in Iraq. And we continue to take on their leadership, their financial networks, their infrastructure. We are going to squeeze them, and we will defeat them.”
But recent world events have shown that ISIL still has the ability to launch serious terrorist attacks, the president said. “One of my main messages today is that destroying ISIL continues to be my top priority,” he added. “And so we should no longer tolerate the kinds of positioning that is enabled by them having headquarters in Raqqa and Mosul. We’ve got to keep on putting the pressure on them.”
Defeating ISIL is not just a military operation, Obama noted. “That is an intelligence and diplomatic effort as well,” he said. “And so one of the things we’ll talk about here is how we make sure that we coordinate our military activities with the efforts of our other branches of government.
“This will continue to be a difficult fight,” he continued, “but I’m absolutely confident that ISIL will lose. We will prevail. And once again, this allows me to say thank you not only to these distinguished members of our armed forces, our core leadership that makes things happen day in and day out, but it also is a good opportunity for me, once again, to say thank you for the incredible men and women in uniform and their families who carry such an enormous burden in order to keep us free and in order to keep us safe.”