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Obama: Defeating Islamic State is 'Top Priority'


US President Barack Obama (L) and Argentinian President Mauricio Macri deliver a joint press conference at the Casa Rosada presidential palace in Buenos Aires on March 23, 2016.

President Barack Obama says destroying Islamic State is his "top priority," a day after the extremist group claimed responsibility for a terrorist attack that killed 31 people in Belgium.

Speaking in Argentina, Obama also vowed to do "whatever is necessary to support our friend and ally Belgium in bringing to justice those who are responsible" for the attack.

"This is yet another reminder that the world must unite, we must be together, regardless of nationality, or race, or faith in fighting against the scourge of terrorism," Obama said. "My top priority is to defeat ISIL and eliminate the scourge of this barbaric terrorism that has been taking place around the world."

The group said it carried out Tuesday's bombings on the airport and Brussels metro in revenge for Belgium's role in the coalition fighting Islamic State.

WATCH: President Obama's statement on Islamic State

Obama Vows Top Priority is Defeating Islamic State
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Since 2014, the coalition has been carrying out a campaign of airstrikes and raids on extremist targets in Syria and Iraq, as well as other Middle East and North African countries.

Republican presidential candidates say the Brussels bombings, the latest in a series of IS-claimed attacks, are the latest evidence the White House is not doing enough to wipe out the group.

Frontrunner Donald Trump explicitly advocated the use of torture in order to stop such attacks. Texas Senator Ted Cruz reiterated his call to "carpet bomb" IS and said law enforcement should "patrol and secure Muslim neighborhoods."

The comments drew sharp criticism from a wide array of political leaders, as well as from American Muslims, who say they are being unfairly singled out for something they have nothing to do with.

Obama on Wednesday slammed the comments as "un-American," and "counterproductive," and defended American Muslims as "extraordinarily successful, patriotic, (and) integrated."

"Their children are our children’s friends, going to the same schools, they are our colleagues in our workplaces, they are our men and women in uniform, fighting for our freedom," Obama said.

"And so any approach that would single them out or target them for discrimination is not only wrong and un-American but it would be counterproductive because it would reduce the strength, the antibodies that we have to resist terrorism," he added.

Belgium's Queen Mathilde, second left, visits firefighters and first responders in front of the damaged Zaventem Airport terminal in Brussels on March 23, 2016.
Belgium's Queen Mathilde, second left, visits firefighters and first responders in front of the damaged Zaventem Airport terminal in Brussels on March 23, 2016.

Obama, who just completed a landmark visit to communist-led Cuba, said he has seen firsthand the devastating effects of overbearing government surveillance.

"I just left a country that engages in that neighborhood surveillance, which by the way the father of Senator Cruz escaped for America, the land of the free, the notion that we would start down that slippery slope makes absolutely no sense. It is contrary to who we are and it is not going to help us defeat ISIL," he said.