President Barack Obama says Washington has increased its efforts to destroy the "Islamic State" (IS) militant group. Speaking at the Pentagon, he said the US-led coalition was hitting the jihadists "harder than ever."
Obama said in a rare speech at the Pentagon on Monday that the US and its allies were intensifying the fight against IS extremists in Iraq and Syria in a bid to win back territory lost to the militant group. But he admitted that progress needed to come faster.
"As we squeeze its heart, we'll make it harder for IS to pump its terror and propaganda to the rest of the world," he said, after meeting top military and national security advisors away from the White House.
Having named eight senior IS figures who had been killed in coalition operations, Obama issued a stern warning to others: "IS leaders cannot hide, and our next message to them is simple: You are next."
Analysts said his speech was part of a public relations drive to ease worries about domestic terrorism ahead of the Christmas and New Year holidays.
It followed an attack by a radicalized Muslim couple at a Christmas party in St Bernardino, California, that left 14 people dead.
His warning to IS came after his own approval ratings hit their lowest level for the year, at 43 percent.
Intensified bombing campaign
The pace of airstrikes against IS targets had accelerated, Obama said, with more bombs dropped in November than in any month since the first international action began in August 2014. Around 9,000 airstrikes have been carried out since then, he added.
"In recent weeks, we've unleashed a new wave of strikes on their lifeline - their oil infrastructure - destroying hundreds of their tankers, trucks, wells and refineries, and we're going to keep on hammering those," the US leader added, remarking that so far the jihadists had lost roughly 40 percent of populated areas it controlled in Iraq.
Obama confirmed that American special forces were now in Syria and were helping local groups squeeze proclaimed IS "capital" Raqqa. He said Iraqi forces were moving to take Ramadi, while at the same time "encircling Fallujah and cutting off IS supply routes into Mosul."
The House of Representatives majority leader, Republican Kevin McCarthy, criticized Obama in response to the Pentagon speech, saying, "The American people are smart enough to know when something is working or not, and it's obvious that the president's current strategy isn't working."
Republican presidential candidates immediately pounced on Obama's statements. White House hopeful Jeb Bush said his remarks were further evidence of a half-hearted strategy in the two war-torn countries.
The fight against IS is likely to feature prominently in the next Republican debate, later on Tuesday.
mm/gsw (AFP, AP, Reuters)