WHITE HOUSE - U.S. President Barack Obama says the U.S.-led coalition has momentum and plans to keep that momentum in the fight against the Islamic State militant group.
"Today on the ground in Syria and in Iraq, ISIL is on the defensive," Obama said Wednesday, using an acronym for Islamic State. "Our 66-member coalition, including Arab partners, is on the offensive."
Flanked by top U.S. military and intelligence leaders, the president noted progress in the fight, including more than 11,500 strikes that have taken out the Sunni militant group's top leaders and thousands of fighters.
"The ISIL core in Syria and Iraq continues to shrink. The ranks of fighters are estimated to be at the lowest levels in about two years, and more and more of them are realizing that their cause is lost," Obama said.
The president spoke after talks with his national security team at the headquarters of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency in Virginia, the third such meeting in recent months, following similar discussions at the Pentagon and State Department.
In his statement to the press Wednesday, Obama said IS's leadership has had a "bad few months," citing the capture of Abu Dawud — the leader of the IS chemical weapons program — and the killing of Abu Salah — Islamic State financier in Iraq.
"In the days and weeks ahead, we intend to take out more. Every day, ISIL leaders wake up and understand it could be their last," Obama said.
With the help of U.S.-led coalition forces, the president said Iraqi forces have consolidated gains in Ramadi and pushed up the Euphrates River valley, retaking several villages that were held by Islamic State militants.
In Syria, the president noted local forces have pushed the group out of al-Shadadi, severing what Obama called a critical supply line between IS strongholds of Raqqa and Mosul.
Obama also outlined how the U.S.-led coalition has disrupted Islamic State's command and control, its communications and its financial infrastructure, including the group's oil wells, refineries and supply lines.
Syria’s civil war
The president repeated that the only way to defeat the Islamic State group is by ending the civil war in Syria. As U.N.-led talks on the conflict resume in Geneva, the U.S. noted the six-week cessation of hostilities so far has reduced violence in the country, but not eliminated it.
"The cessation has saved lives, but as we are seeing around Aleppo and other areas, the cessation is tenuous and under strain. We have seen repeated violations by the Assad regime, continued attacks by al-Qaida's al-Nusra affiliate," Obama said.
The Syrian civil war will be a focus of talks next week when Obama travels to Saudi Arabia to meet with members of the Gulf Cooperation Council, before heading to Britain and Germany.
Obama began his remarks Wednesday referencing the recent IS attacks in Brussels, Istanbul and Baghdad. He also had a message for both Americans and the greater international community.
"With attacks like these, ISIL hopes to weaken our collective resolve. And once again, they have failed. Their barbarism only stiffens our unity and determination to wipe this vile terrorist organization off the face of the earth."