WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The U.S. military battle against ISIS is "moving forward with a great sense of urgency," President Barack Obama said at the Pentagon on Monday, admitting that progress against the terrorists in Iraq and Syria remains slow-going.
"This continues to be a difficult fight," Obama said, using another term ISIS. "ISIL is dug in, including in urban areas, and they hide behind civilians, and using men, women and children as human shields. So even as we are relentless, we have to be smart and target ISIL with precision."
Obama was speaking after meeting with his National Security Council at the Pentagon. It's rare for Obama to meet with his top military brass and homeland security experts outside the White House Situation Room; the session at the Defense Department was meant to convey the seriousness with which the President is approaching the military strategy in Iraq and Syria.
Obama said the visit was part of an ongoing effort to "review and constantly strengthen" U.S. military plans against ISIS.
Before those incidents, Obama sounded confident in coalition efforts against ISIS, saying in interviews that the group's land-grab was "contained" and that the U.S. homeland has "never been more protected."
The U.S. and its partners have been enjoying some gains on the ground, including retaking Sinjar Mountain in Iraq and beginning to advance on Ramadi, held by ISIS since the spring.
But the attacks in Paris and San Bernardino shook Americans' confidence in the government's ability to protect them from terror groups. Obama delivered a rare prime time address to update the nation on his anti-ISIS strategy last Sunday, and on Thursday will receive a briefing at the National Counterterrorism Center, outside Washington, on the latest intelligence about holiday threats.
But the ramp-up in events designed to convey Obama's steadfastness against ISIS hasn't been paired with a large-scale shift in strategy. Obama has consistently ruled out sending a large number of ground forces into Iraq or Syria, saying the nation has no appetite for another American-led war in the Middle East.
He has sent small number of Special Operations forces, including announcing the deployment of additional operators to Iraq at the beginning of December.
The U.S. has also ramped up intelligence gathering in partnership with European allies, an effort that doesn't lend itself to grand displays of military strength that could help assuage fears in the U.S.
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