Obama asks for policy review after realising Iraq-first, then-Syria strategy won't work: Report

US President Barack Obama speaks at a meeting with more than 20 foreign defence chiefs to discuss the coalition efforts in the ongoing campaign against ISIS at Joint Base Andrews in Washington, Oct 14, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
US President Barack Obama speaks at a meeting with more than 20 foreign defence chiefs to discuss the coalition efforts in the ongoing campaign against ISIS at Joint Base Andrews in Washington, Oct 14, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON - US President Barack Obama has asked his national security team for another review of the US policy toward Syria after realising that the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) may not be defeated without a political transition in Syria, said a report quoting senior US officials and diplomats.

The review is a tacit admission that the initial strategy of taking on ISIS first in Iraq and then in Syria, without also focusing on the removal of Syrian President Bashar al Assad, was a miscalculation, CNN reported.

"The long running Syria problem is now compounded by the reality that to genuinely defeat ISIL, we need not only a defeat in Iraq but a defeat in Syria," a senior official told CNN, referring to the militant group by its other name, the Islamic State in Iraq and Levant (ISIL).

The sources told CNN that in the past week, the White House has convened four meetings of the national security team. These meetings were "driven to a large degree how our Syria strategy fits into our ISIS strategy,'' said a senior official. "The President has asked us to look again at how this fits together."

In October, Obama pushed for an "Iraq first" strategy with efforts to degrade ISIS in Iraq as the priority and operations in Syria done to shape conditions in Iraq, according to the report.

Washington hoped that would give time for the US to vet, train and arm a moderate Syrian rebels fighting force to combat ISIS, and ultimately the Assad regime.

But with the Free Syrian Army struggling in a two-front battle against Assad's forces and extremists from both ISIS and other extremist groups like al-Nusra, US officials recognise the "Iraq first" strategy is untenable, CNN reported.

"Developments on the ground have caused the national security team to collectively conclude we may not have time for Iraq first. In an ideal world you would drive ISIL out of Iraq and pivot to Syria. But if by then the moderate opposition has been smacked and ISIL is still there, that doesn't help," CNN quoted a senior administration official as saying.

The TV station said the options being discussed include a no-fly zone on the border with Turkey, and accelerating and expanding the Pentagon program to vet, train and arm the moderate opposition.

Turkey has called for a no-fly zone, both to protect its border and to provide relief to Syrian rebels facing airstrikes from the regime.

The administration has asked Congress for US$500 million (S$645 million) to train and equip 5,000 vetted rebels within one year.