Obama vows to destroy ISIS

He also calls for tolerance and issues strong defence of Muslim community in the US during televised address

President Barack Obama speaks about counter-terrorism during an address to the nation from the White House in Washington, on Dec 6, 2015.
President Barack Obama speaks about counter-terrorism during an address to the nation from the White House in Washington, on Dec 6, 2015. PHOTO: REUTERS

United States President Barack Obama has vowed to destroy the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and overcome the threat of terrorism, as he sought to calm an increasingly anxious American population in the wake of the deadly shooting in California last week.

But the President also devoted a significant portion of his televised address on Sunday to calling for tolerance. "We cannot turn against one another by letting this fight be defined as a war between America and Islam. That, too, is what groups like ISIL want," he said, using another name for ISIS.

"ISIL does not speak for Islam. They are thugs and killers, part of a cult of death, and they account for a tiny fraction of more than a billion Muslims around the world."

In the days and weeks after the attacks in Paris and the shooting in San Bernardino, experts have said the anxiety level among Americans had risen to its highest point since the Sept 11, 2001 attacks in New York. That nervousness, paired with a series of inflammatory anti-Muslim remarks and proposals from Republican candidates on the campaign trail, had raised fears that the Muslim community might face a backlash.

Mr Obama thus spent approximately half of his 13-minute speech issuing a strong defence of the Muslim community in America.

He said: "It's our responsibility to reject proposals that Muslim Americans should somehow be treated differently. Because when we travel down that road, we lose."

But Mr Obama also acknowledged that the Muslim community does have an important part to play in the battle against extremism. He stressed that there was no denying "the fact that an extremist ideology has spread within some Muslim communities".

"This is a real problem that Muslims must confront, without excuse," he said.

The address was only the third time in his tenure that Mr Obama has made a televised address from the Oval Office. The previous two took place in 2010 and focused on the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and US military operations in Iraq.

It came as the authorities broadened the probe into Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik, the two shooters in the San Bernardino attacks.

During his address, Mr Obama referred to the shooting as terrorism for the first time. He said the two assailants were clearly radicalised ahead of their attack, although there was no evidence they were directed by ISIS.

Mr Obama did not announce any departure from his existing strategy to combat what he said was an evolving threat of terrorism, prompting swift criticism from analysts and political opponents.

Senator John McCain, for instance, took aim at Mr Obama for sticking to a strategy that he said was not working: "America needs a strategy to destroy ISIL as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, that is not what President Obama described tonight."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 08, 2015, with the headline 'Obama vows to destroy ISIS'. Subscribe