Defense Department News

Obama Offers Condolences to Orlando Victims, Discusses Counter-ISIL Strategy

June 14, 2016 | BY Cheryl Pellerin

Following a meeting with his National Security Council, President Barack Obama today offered condolences to those affected by the June 12 shooting that killed 49 people at a nightclub in Orlando, Florida.

“The American people and our allies and friends all over the world stand with you and are thinking about you and are praying for you,” Obama said during a news conference at the Treasury Department here. The NSC meeting was focused on cutting off the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant’s revenue sources.

Stopping Such Attacks

“We are doing everything in our power to stop these kinds of attacks,” he added.

The shooter, identified as 29-year-old Omar Mateen from Fort Pierce, Florida, had accessed “extremist information and propaganda over the internet,” Obama said.

Mateen was killed during a confrontation with police. Fifty-three people were injured in the shooting. Among those killed was  Army Reserve Capt. Antonio Devon Brown, Navy Capt. Jeff Davis told reporters today. “We express our condolences to his family and to all the families and loved ones of the victims," he added.

Those who joined the president on the podium included Joint Chiefs Chairman Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford, FBI Director James Comey, Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper and Treasury Secretary Jack Lew.

Defense Secretary Ash Carter, who is in Brussels for meetings with NATO defense ministers, participated in the NSC meeting via teleconference.

Obama said the meeting was part of his administration’s regular effort to review and intensify the campaign to destroy ISIL.

U.S. soldiers assigned to 1st Battalion, 320 Field Artillery Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) fire an M777 howitzer from Kara Soar Base, Iraq, during a night operation in support of the Iraqi army on June 3, 2016. Fire missions are one way the coalition assists the Iraqi army to defeat the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. Advise-and-assist teams enable Iraqi security forces as they prepare for upcoming operations by sharing intelligence and helping them develop security strategies and targeting plans. Army photo by Spc. Jaquan P. Turnbow
U.S. soldiers assigned to 1st Battalion, 320 Field Artillery Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) fire an M777 howitzer from Kara Soar Base, Iraq, during a night operation in support of the Iraqi army on June 3, 2016. Fire missions are one way the coalition assists the Iraqi army to defeat the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. Advise-and-assist teams enable Iraqi security forces as they prepare for upcoming operations by sharing intelligence and helping them develop security strategies and targeting plans. Army photo by Spc. Jaquan P. Turnbow
U.S. soldiers assigned to 1st Battalion, 320 Field Artillery Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) fire an M777 howitzer from Kara Soar Base, Iraq, during a night operation in support of the Iraqi army on June 3, 2016. Fire missions are one way the coalition assists the Iraqi army to defeat the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. Advise-and-assist teams enable Iraqi security forces as they prepare for upcoming operations by sharing intelligence and helping them develop security strategies and targeting plans. Army photo by Spc. Jaquan P. Turnbow
Task Force Strike Soldiers conduct fire missions
U.S. soldiers assigned to 1st Battalion, 320 Field Artillery Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) fire an M777 howitzer from Kara Soar Base, Iraq, during a night operation in support of the Iraqi army on June 3, 2016. Fire missions are one way the coalition assists the Iraqi army to defeat the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. Advise-and-assist teams enable Iraqi security forces as they prepare for upcoming operations by sharing intelligence and helping them develop security strategies and targeting plans. Army photo by Spc. Jaquan P. Turnbow
Photo By: Spc. Jaquan Turnbow
VIRIN: 160603-A-OZ383-102

“I want to remind them that they are not alone,” the president said of the people of Orlando.

Counter-ISIL Meeting

During the NSC meeting, Carter and Dunford reviewed the military campaign against ISIL, Obama said, adding that the mission to destroy the terrorist group continues to be a difficult fight, but one that is making significant progress.

“Over the past two months, I've authorized a series of steps to ratchet up our fight against ISIL,” the president said. These include adding more U.S. personnel, including special operations forces in Syria to help local forces battling ISIL there, more advisors to work more closely with Iraqi security forces, and other assets such as attack helicopters and more support for local forces in northern Iraq, he said.

“Our aircraft continue to launch from the USS Harry Truman, now in the Mediterranean. Our B-52 bombers are hitting ISIL with precision strikes. Targets are being identified and hit even more quickly,” Obama said. So far, he added, 13,000 airstrikes have been launched against ISIL.

ISIL’s Experiencing Pressure

The counter-ISIL campaign is firing on all cylinders, “and as a result, ISIL is under more pressure than ever before. ISIL continues to lose key leaders,” the president said.

He added, “This includes Salman Abu Shabib, the senior military leader in Mosul … who plotted external attacks; Shaker Wahib, ISIL's military leader in Iraq's Anbar province; and Maher al-Bilawi, the top ISIL commander in Fallujah.”

The coalition has killed more than 120 top ISIL leaders and commanders, and ISIL continues to lose ground in Iraq, Obama said. In the past two months, he said, local forces in Iraq with coalition support have liberated the western town of Rutbah and moved up the Euphrates River Valley, liberating the strategic town of Hit and breaking the ISIL siege of Haditha.

“Iraqis forces have surrounded Fallujah and begun to move into the city. … In the north, Iraqi forces continue to push up the Tigris River Valley … and now [are] preparing to tighten the noose around ISIL in Mosul,” Obama said.

In Syria, helped by U.S. Special Forces, the coalition of local forces is tightening the noose around ISIL in Raqqa, he added.

Reducing ISIL’s Revenue Stream

“In short,” Obama said, “our coalition continues to be on offense. ISIL is on defense and it has now been a full year since ISIL has been able to mount a major successful offensive operation on either Syria or Iraq.”

As a result of strikes against ISIL’s oil infrastructure and supply lines, its revenue from oil is down by millions of dollars per month, and the coalition’s destruction of storage sites for its cash, ISIL is deprived of many millions more, the president said.

“ISIL's cash reserves are down; it has had to cut salaries for its fighters, [and] it's resorting to more extortion of those trapped in its grip. And by ISIL's own admission, some of its own leaders have been caught stealing cash and gold. Once again, ISIL's true nature has been revealed. These are not religious warriors. They are thugs, and they are thieves,” Obama said.

The terrorist group’s ranks and morale also are shrinking, he said.

“As one defector said, ISIL is not bringing Islam to the world, and people need to know that,” he added.

Stemming Foreign Fighter Flow

International efforts have made it possible to stem the flow of foreign fighters, Obama said. The U.S. intelligence community, he added, now assesses that the ranks of ISIL fighters have been reduced to the lowest levels in more than two and a half years.

The coalition also is addressing factors that have allowed the terrorists to gain traction in parts of the world, Obama said.

In Iraq, he said, this means helping Iraqis stabilize liberated communities and promote inclusive governance so ISIL can’t return. In Syria, it means continued support for the fragile cessation of hostilities there. ISIL, and al-Nusra -- al-Qaida's affiliate in Syria -- also continue to terrorize Syrians, the president said.

Beyond Syria and Iraq, ISIL is also losing ground in Libya, he added.

“Forces of the Libyan Unity Government are going after ISIL in their stronghold in Sirte, and we'll continue to assist the new Libyan government as it works to secure its country,” Obama said.

(Follow Cheryl Pellerin on Twitter: @PellerinDoDNews)