US President Barack Obama has said the fight against the "Islamic State" has entered a "new phase." It remains unclear whether recent US-led airstrikes have killed the group's top commander, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
In an interview taped Friday and broadcast Sunday on the US broadcaster CBS, President Barack Obama said that airstrikes had proved "very effective" in halting the advances of the "Islamic State" (IS) while also diminishing the group's capacities. The president added that the United States would go on the offensive in partnership with its allies.
"Now what we need is ground troops, Iraqi ground troops, that can start pushing them back," Obama said. He added that the US would provide "close air support" to Iraqi forces for their own offensive against IS, which seized much of the country's north in June.
On Friday, Obama announced plans to add 1,500 troops to those advising forces in Iraq. The US-led coalition has been conducting airstrikes against IS positions in Iraq and Syria for the past several weeks.
Pentagon officials say they have no information as to whether US airstrikes launched on Friday had killed or injured Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who has led the group since taking charge of an early form of it in 2010. The US-led coalition had hit a gathering of IS leaders near the northwestern city of Mosul on Friday, and Iraqi officials believe a number of high-ranking commanders were killed.
The United States has offered a reward worth $10 million (8 million euros) for the capture of Baghdadi, who has proclaimed himself the "caliph" of his self-styled "Islamic State" in Iraq in Syria. Adding to the rumors that the strikes had hit Baghdadi, believed to be in his early 40s, Al-Arabiya TV reported that he had been wounded, and local media claimed that one of his aides had been killed.
"We cannot confirm if leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was among those present," US Central Command spokesman Patrick Ryder said in a statement released Sunday. The strikes destroyed a convoy of 10 armored vehicles belonging to IS.
Ryder called the strikes a sign of the "continued pressure we continue to place on the terrorist network," and said they were designed to ensure the militant group had "increasingly limited freedom to maneuver, communicate and command."
IS has not yet issued a public comment on the recent strikes.
mkg/jm (Reuters, AFP, dpa, AP)