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Obama Administration Urged To Do More After ISIS Terror Attacks


On a Monday, It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep. Good morning. President Obama promises an intensification of U.S. efforts against the self-described Islamic State. Let's examine what some of the president's former advisers want the United States to do and what the Pentagon says it will do. It's all in the wake of the attacks in Paris. NPR Pentagon correspondent, Tom Bowman, is in our studios this morning. Tom, good morning.

TOM BOWMAN, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: What are former administration officials saying they want?

BOWMAN: Well, first of all, Steve, you have Mike Vickers. He's a former top Pentagon official, intelligence official. And he's calling for more airstrikes, more special operations troops on the ground. Also he's saying you have to build up the numbers of Syrian rebels to serve as a ground force. And also, Secretary - former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, yesterday on NBC's "Meet The Press," he said the American effort so far is just not enough. Let's listen.


LEON PANETTA: We need to increase the tempo of our airstrikes. We need to organize ground forces, particularly the Sunnis and the Kurds, and arm them so that they can take territory back from ISIS.

BOWMAN: So you're hearing something common from a lot of people. Mike Vickers, Leon Panetta, also Hillary Clinton said the same thing. And it's important, Steve, to note that both Panetta and Clinton called for President Obama to arm and train Syrian rebels four years ago, when they worked for the administration, when ISIS was not as strong as it is now. The president decided not to do that. So there seems to be this widening sense of a stalemate. But it's - it's unusual you would have these senior officials saying this openly. And the president, by the way, has urged patience. He wants local forces to do all this. He says his strategy is working. And he said over the weekend, listen, ISIS will be destroyed. But they're much more growing calls, increasing calls, to do more.

INSKEEP: Now, the president himself has said there will be this intensification. What is that going to mean, according to Pentagon officials?

BOWMAN: Well, it seems they are willing to do more. They've talked about stepped-up airstrikes. They're sending more ammunition to Syrian rebels. They're sending dozens of special operations troops to Syria to work with the rebels as advisers. But the problem is this ground effort is not going as quickly as some would want. So as Panetta said, you have to more quickly end this caliphate. So there's this tug, Steve, between letting the locals do it and having Western forces take a larger role now that we see these terror attacks actually branching out into Europe.

INSKEEP: That's the struggle. How much should the West take on itself? How much should the West patiently wait for local forces to destroy ISIS? Well, now, will U.S. allies intensify their efforts, Tom?

BOWMAN: Well, just today, Steve, Prime Minister David Cameron in Great Britain said he will ask Parliament to carry out military airstrikes along with France. And this will help the effort, Steve. But it's important to note that the United State carries out roughly 80 percent of all airstrikes at this point. And again, while it's important Great Britain will step up and help, this is all about holding ground. And at this point in Syria, you don't have enough Syrian rebels to push on to Raqqa, the capital. And also next door in Iraq, you don't have the will to fight outside of the Kurds.

INSKEEP: And airplanes don't hold ground.

BOWMAN: That's right.

INSKEEP: Tom, thanks very much.

BOWMAN: You're welcome, Steve.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Tom Bowman. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tom Bowman is a NPR National Desk reporter covering the Pentagon.