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Obama Visits Pentagon To Highlight Ongoing Fight Against ISIS


President Obama insists his strategy to beat the Islamic State is showing progress. He defended his approach after a meeting today with top advisers at the Pentagon. NPR's Tom Bowman was there and joins us now. And Tom, what did the president actually point to in terms of saying what's working?

TOM BOWMAN, BYLINE: Well, Audie, the president's been criticized even by some former administration officials that his strategy against ISIS is not working. He said today he was intensifying the fight. He also singled out the increase in coalition air campaign in the past few weeks of mostly U.S. airstrikes - also some from countries like France and Great Britain. Let's hear what he said.


BARACK OBAMA: We are hitting ISIL harder than ever. Coalition aircraft, our fighters, bombers and drones, have been increasing the pace of airstrikes - nearly 9,000 as of today. Last month, in November, we dropped more bombs on ISIL targets than any other month since this campaign started.

CORNISH: Of course, the president's been talking about doing more since the Paris attacks last month, right? I mean, you've been reporting...

BOWMAN: That's right.

CORNISH: ...On that the last few weeks. Has anything actually changed in terms of what the U.S. is doing?

BOWMAN: You know, not really. They're already sending in more more special operations soldiers into both Iraq and Syria. They've already talked about more airstrikes. And the president's visit today was really as much about politics as anything else, especially since the attack in San Bernardino. He's made a couple of appearances on ISIS and terrorism.

He's also going to the National Counterterrorism Center later this week. So the White House wants to show that he's engaged and that he has a handle on the conflict, especially since he's getting ready to go to Hawaii for Christmas. Now, the president also said Defense Secretary Ash Carter is going to travel to the Middle East to ask for more support from regional powers like Jordan and Saudi Arabia. So that's new.

CORNISH: OK - more support. What would that actually look like from some of these partners?

BOWMAN: Well, first of all, you have to look at the numbers, Audie. There are more than 3,000 U.S. troops in Iraq, a few dozen in Syria. Another 2,000 troops from Europe and Australia are advising the Iraqi army. There are no advisers from any of these Arab countries on the ground. So you could push for more advisers - Arabs helping Arabs.

Now, we're told privately that Saudi is focused on fighting rebels in Yemen right now. And Jordan is worried about the crash of refugees coming from Syria into its country. It wants to control its borders. So that's where they could possibly help.

CORNISH: Meanwhile, there actually has been some signs of success of Iraqi troops beginning to retake the city of Ramadi from ISIS from body from ISIS fighters. What more can you tell us?

BOWMAN: Well, they are making progress. They're finally moving into the city after months on the outskirts. But we're told today ISIS fighters have blown up a dam, and they're slowing the progress of those Iraqi troops. And city fighting, by the way, is some of the toughest. And the president actually said today, the enemy is entrenched here and elsewhere.

And it's also important to point out that despite the moves by Iraqi forces, a lot of this is because of U.S. airstrikes. One Iraqi officer told the Washington Post reporter who's in Ramadi that 80 percent of their success so far in Ramadi is due to U.S. airstrikes.

CORNISH: That NPR's Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman. Tom, thank you.

BOWMAN: You're welcome, Audie. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tom Bowman is a NPR National Desk reporter covering the Pentagon.