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Obama Calls For Coordinated Global Fight Against Islamic State

U.S. President Barack Obama (center) chaired a "Leader's Summit on Countering [Islamic State] and Violent Extremism" at UN headquarters, in New York on September 29.
U.S. President Barack Obama (center) chaired a "Leader's Summit on Countering [Islamic State] and Violent Extremism" at UN headquarters, in New York on September 29.

U.S. President Barack Obama has called for renewed effort to stem the radicalizing networks that are attracting recruits to the radical Islamic State (IS) militant group, whose ranks have been bolstered by tens of thousands of foreigners in Syria and Iraq.

Obama told a U.S.-led summit meeting on September 29 that he was confident Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, would ultimately be defeated but he cautioned it would take time.

"There are going to be successes, and there are going to be setbacks," he told the summit, which was held on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly. "This is not a conventional battle. This is a long-term campaign, not only against this particular network, but against its ideology."

"It is not going to be enough to defeat ISIL in the battlefield. We have to prevent it from radicalizing, recruiting, and inspiring others to violence in the first place," Obama said. "And this means defeating their ideology. Ideologies are not defeated with guns. They're defeated by better ideas, and more attractive and compelling vision."

Like countries across Europe and the Middle East, the United States has struggled to craft a working strategy to stop people from being recruited by Islamic State or becoming adherents to extreme or violent religious ideology.

The New York Times reported on September 29 that U.S. intelligence agencies estimate that up to 30,000 foreigners have joined Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.

Islamic State has seized vast swaths of territory across the two countries.

The extremist group has lost some of those occupied territories in recent months, amid a U.S.-led coalition that has pounded the fighters with air strikes, and battlefield gains by Kurdish fighters.

But Islamic State's recruiting tactics, harnessing social media networks, continue to be a concern for policymakers, who fear radicalized people will seek to commit terrorist attacks in their home countries.

'More Democracy' Needed

Obama said more needs to be done to uproot the underlying problems that he said allows radical ideology to flourish, such as human right abuses or corrupt governments.

"We also have to address the political grievances that ISIL exploits," he said. "I've said this before: When human rights are denied and citizens have no opportunity to redress their grievances peacefully, it feeds terrorist propaganda that justifies violence."

"The real path to lasting stability and progress is not less democracy. I believe it is more democracy in terms of free speech and freedom of religion, rule of law, strong civil societies. All that has to play a part in countering violent extremism," he said.

The UN summit also came a day before Russia was set to chair a Security Council meeting on the same subject.

Russia, which may have as many as 3,000 personnel in Syria and Iraq, has deployed a sizable contingent of military weaponry and personnel to Syria, and may be poised to start attacking Islamic State militants itself.

The deployment, however, has been done without the coordination of the U.S-led coalition, leading to suspicions that Moscow may be seeking to not only fight the militants, but also prop up the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Underscoring the sharply divergent views between Moscow and Washington on conducting the fight in Syria, Russia's U.N. ambassador slammed the U.S. meeting.

"This initiative seriously undermines UN efforts," Vitaly Churkin was quoted as saying by Russian news agencies.

Intrusive Surveillance

The Obama administration has tried different approaches to counter extremism such as using media campaigns on Twitter and Facebook to discredit Islamic State ideology, highlight the group's often brutal punishments, and argue that the ideology is a distortion of Islam.

But critics have said the effort has sometimes been incoherent or off-key in its messaging.

The administration has also sought to build relationships with communities in the United States that have been worst affected by radicalizing networks, such as Somali American communities in Minnesota.

Community activists have also complained that law enforcement has undermined trust by using intrusive surveillance and what they say is excessive punishment.

A Congressional report released on September 29 criticized the Obama administration, saying it lacked a comprehensive strategy to combat both terrorists and people trying to travel abroad to join terrorist groups.

The bipartisan report by the House Homeland Security Committee said more than 250 Americans have joined or tried to join terrorist groups in Iraq and Syria and dozens have been able to successfully return to the United States.

The United Nations has called on countries to take measures to disrupt travel by potential fighters heading for Syria or Iraq, such as requiring passengers to provide information in advance of their travels.

Ahead of the September 29 summit meeting, the Obama administration announced new financial sanctions against Islamic State-linked organizations in Russia and Pakistan and other individuals.