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Obama Directs Security Team to 'Intensify' Anti-IS Efforts

  • Aru Pande

President Barack Obama and French President Francois Hollande embrace during a joint news conference in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Nov. 24, 2015.

President Barack Obama and French President Francois Hollande embrace during a joint news conference in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Nov. 24, 2015.

In a meeting Tuesday with his National Security Council, U.S. President Barack Obama called for increased coalition airstrikes against the Islamic State.

"The president directed his national security team to continue to intensify ongoing efforts to degrade and destroy ISIL," the White House said late Tuesday.

Ongoing efforts include increased military cooperation with allies, disrupting foreign fighter networks, halting IS expansion outside of Syria and Iraq, and disrupting any IS external plotting efforts, the White House said, adding that the national security team sees "no specific, credible threat" to the U.S. currently.

Nevertheless, the president plans to meet with members of his national security team Wednesday to be briefed on homeland security in the wake of the attacks in France.

Earlier Tuesday, Obama and French President Francois Hollande stood together in the White House East Room, with words of solidarity and a vow to take the fight to the Islamic State militant group.

Obama said the United States stands with France in the wake of the November 13 attacks, adding that when tragedy struck, "our hearts broke, too."

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At least 130 people were killed and more than 300 others were wounded in the attacks on five cafes and restaurants, a stadium and a concert hall. Hollande on Monday recalled a 2 a.m. phone call from his American counterpart with a message that the U.S. stood by France and was ready to offer unlimited assistance, and work jointly to fight terrorism.

"The Paris attacks generated a lot of emotion, but that's not enough – compassion, solidarity – and I take note of it," Hollande said, "but we must act."

Intensifying the fight

The French president said he is working to persuade world leaders to act with greater intensity against the Islamic State. France has launched airstrikes against IS targets in Syria, and on Tuesday Hollande said both France and the U.S. will intensify the air campaign.

"Against Daesh, we need a joint response, an implacable joint response. France and the United States stand together to bring that joint response," he said.

He vowed to hunt down Islamic State leaders, dismantle their networks and take back their territory.

Photo, released Nov. 23, 2015 by the French Army Communications Audiovisual office (ECPAD), shows a French army Rafale fighter jet taking off from the deck of France's aircraft carrier Charles De Gaulle, in the Mediterranean sea.

Photo, released Nov. 23, 2015 by the French Army Communications Audiovisual office (ECPAD), shows a French army Rafale fighter jet taking off from the deck of France's aircraft carrier Charles De Gaulle, in the Mediterranean sea.

Hollande said he and Obama agreed to scale up airstrikes in Syria and Iraq, broaden their scope, and strengthen intelligence sharing, while urging closure of the Turkey-Syria border to prevent Islamic State fighters from crossing into Europe.

Obama noted progress made by the U.S.-led coalition of 65 nations against the Islamic State.

"More than 8,000 airstrikes combined with local partners on the ground have pushed ISIL back from territory in both Iraq and Syria," the U.S. leader said. "Today, President Hollande and I agreed that our nations must do more together."

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​Obama said both nations will do more to prevent attacks at home with greater intelligence sharing. He called on the European Union to implement an agreement requiring airlines to share passenger information in order to stem the flow of foreign fighters.

He also pledged that "Americans will not be terrorized, while calling on his countrymen to uphold the U.S. ideals of freedom of religion and equality before the law, in the midst of a contentious debate in the country over whether to allow Syrian refugees to enter the U.S.

FILE - Residents inspect a damaged site from what activists said were airstrikes carried out by the Russian air force in Nawa city, Deraa, Syria, Nov. 21, 2015.

FILE - Residents inspect a damaged site from what activists said were airstrikes carried out by the Russian air force in Nawa city, Deraa, Syria, Nov. 21, 2015.

Obama has been criticized by Republican lawmakers and presidential candidates looking to succeed him when he leaves office in January 2017 for his plan to allow 10,000 Syrian refugees into the U.S. over the next year. But he noted that France is set to permit 30,000 Syrians to enter its borders, and he reiterated that his refugee plan calls for intensive screening before anyone can move to the United States.

Russia in Syria

Tuesday's talks between Hollande and Obama were overshadowed by Turkey's downing of a Russian jet along the Syrian-Turkish border earlier in the day.

President Obama said Turkey has the right to defend its territory and airspace, warned against any escalation, and noted the incident points to the "ongoing problem with the Russian operations" as Russia operates close to the Turkish border and continues to target the Syrian moderate opposition.

Obama again called on Russia to redirect its efforts and focus its strikes on defeating the Islamic State, instead of bolstering Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

"Russia right now is a coalition of two, Iran and Russia supporting Assad," Obama said. "Given Russia's military capabilities and given the influence they have on the Assad regime, them cooperating would be enormously helpful in bringing about a resolution of the civil war in Syria and allow us all to refocus our attention on ISIL."

Hollande said he will reaffirm that point when he meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin in the coming days, a bid to further strengthen the fight against Islamic State militants.

VOA's Ken Bredemeier contributed to this report.

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