US mistaken about Iraqi army and ISIL: Obama
The U.S. underestimated ISIL and overestimated the ability of the Iraqi army, says President Obama

The U.S. underestimated the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant, ISIL, and overestimated the ability of the Iraqi army to repel the militant group, said U.S. President Barack Obama in an interview with Steve Kroft on CBS TV on Sunday.

Obama, quoting U.S. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, said they both underestimated the rise of ISIL terror group and overestimated the ability of the Iraqi army to avert the terror group's threat.

"ISIL represents a sort of hybrid of not only a terrorist network, but one with territorial ambitions and with some of the strategy and tactics of an army," Obama said.

He explained the al-Qaeda group in Iraq went underground after the U.S. squashed them with the help of Sunni tribes, but over the past couple of years, during the chaos of the Syrian civil war where huge swathes of the country were ungoverned, they were able to reconstitute themselves and take advantage of the chaos.

As the group attracted thousands of foreign fighters, Obama said Syria "became ground zero for jihadists around the world." He also noted that as the militants were expunged from the Iraqi military after Saddam Hussein's fall, they have "traditional military capacity."

"That's why it's so important for us to recognize part of the solution here has to be through military means," he said.

When it comes to Iraq, he said the U.S. left Iraqis "with a democracy that was intact, a military that was well-equipped and the ability then to chart their own course."

However, he added "that opportunity was squandered over the course of five years or so because the prime minister, [Nouri al] Maliki, was much more interested in consolidating his Shi'a base."

He claimed that it would take generations to overcome the political intolerance within Iraq and the Middle East, and said they have now created an environment in which the youth can make a change.

- US not to stabilize Syria under Assad

In response to Kroft's questions on U.S. arming and training the Syrian opposition, Obama said that Syria's Bashar al-Assad should go, but ISIL now presents a more immediate threat which has to be dealt with.

"We are not going to stabilize Syria under the rule of Assad because the Sunni areas inside of Syria view Assad as having carried out terrible atrocities," Obama said. "On the other hand, in terms of immediate threats to the United States, ISIL, the Khorasan group (a group of al-Qaeda veterans who have moved into Syria) those folks could kill Americans."

The U.S. and several Arab states, as part of a more than 50-nation U.S-led coalition, since last week have conducted several airstrikes on ISIL targets and the Khorasan Group in Syria, an umbrella name coined for Islamists opposition groups alleged to be affiliated to al-Qaeda.

-NATO and Russia not to have military confrontation

During the interview Obama also spoke about Russia's actions in Eastern Europe and U.S.-Russia relations. He said that Moscow violated the sovereignty of Ukraine and noted that the cease-fire that was brokered by Western powers under U.S. leadership through the imposition of economic sanctions is still holding. However, he does not anticipate that a military confrontation between Russia and NATO countries will materialize.

"If you [to Russia] mess with a NATO country, then there will be a military confrontation," Obama said. "And Putin understands that."

Russia has been supporting separatists in Ukraine and annexed Crimea after it declared independence. The conflict in Ukraine has seen the U.S. and European powers voice their concerns over Russia's role in its escalation.

Russia faced several sanctions in the first wave after the annexation of Crimea in March. Another wave followed after the downing of a Malaysian airliner on July 17 which killed all 298 passengers and crew members onboard

Last Modified: 2014-09-29 08:35:30
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