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Obama Vows To 'Intensify' U.S. Action Against ISIS


There's been a renewed call to send in U.S. ground troops to fight ISIS after the attacks in Paris. But President Obama said today at the the G-20 conference in Turkey that he's standing behind his military strategy. Instead of sending in troops, the president calls for continuing to work with local forces and to lead the U.S.-led air campaign. NPR's Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman joins us now to talk about what the president had to say. Hey there, Tom.


CORNISH: And the president said he would intensify the current strategy. What does that mean?

BOWMAN: Well, it means more airstrikes, more aid to local fighters. The U.S., by the way, is sending more ammunition to Syrian rebels. But some analysts and lawmakers are calling for sending in U.S. troops - thousands of them. And the president took that on. Let's listen.


BARACK OBAMA: And let's assumed that we were to send 50,000 troops into Syria. What happens when there's a terrorist attack generated from Yemen? Do we then send more troops into there or Libya, perhaps, or if there's a terrorist network that's operating anywhere else in North Africa or in Southeast Asia?

BOWMAN: So the president said, let's continue the strategy I've come up with of working with rebel groups in Syria and with the Iraqi and Kurdish forces in Iraq in providing air cover for them even though the president said this strategy does not offer the, quote, "satisfaction of a neat headline or an immediate resolution."

CORNISH: OK. So the current strategy involves trainers. The president said he would send up to 50 special operations forces into Syria to work with local forces there. Is there something short of sending, you know, like the president said, 50,000 troops into Syria?

BOWMAN: You know, I think there is. Some advocate putting special operations forces closer to the front lines, maybe bringing in Apache attack helicopters to push this thing forward. That's risky, though. It could lead to American casualties, but it's something being discussed both inside and outside of government - sort of a midway course between American advisers and bases in Iraq or sending in tens of thousands of ground troops.

CORNISH: And the president's strategy's come under a lot of criticism from Republicans. What does it look like on the ground?

BOWMAN: Well, in the Kurdish areas in Iraq and Syria, it seems to be working fairly well. The Kurds are hardened fighters. Their nickname is the Peshmerga - those who face death. And they'd secured a key highway between Iraq and Syria preventing ISIS from resupplying. And Syrian Kurds, also, Audie, are taking back territory as well. But elsewhere, things have not moved. In the Iraqi city of Ramadi, the Iraqi Security Forces are not as aggressive as the Kurds. They've only encircled that city.

CORNISH: And of course, people heard over the weekend, the French have stepped up their role, bombing multiple ISIS targets. Do you expect that to continue?

BOWMAN: Well, you may see more airstrikes from the French, particularly in this area of Raqqah. But frankly, a lot of this is political theatre to show the French people they're fighting back. Militarily, it's not all that effective. The number of French airstrikes over the past couple of days is equal to what the Americans did just a few days ago. And again, it's all about ground troops, and there's no talk of sending in any French ground troops or even advisers.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Tom Bowman. Tom, thank you.

BOWMAN: You're welcome, Audie. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tom Bowman is a NPR National Desk reporter covering the Pentagon.