President Obama rejected calls from Congressional Republicans to send more U.S. troops to Iraq and also pledged Monday that all troops would continue to get paid despite his threat to veto the military budget.
"There are no current plans to do so," Obama said when asked about the possibility of additional deployments to Iraq, but "I've always said I'm going to do what is necessary to protect the homeland."
Obama said that adding to the 3,500 troops already in Iraq in a train, advise and assist role was not a topic of discussion in his closed-door meeting Monday with his top commanders and Defense Department officials at the Pentagon.
Rather than sending more U.S. troops, "we have to develop local security forces that can sustain progress," Obama said.
"It is not enough for us to simply send in American troops to temporarily set back organizations like ISIL (another acronym for ISIS) but to then, as soon as we leave, see that void filled with extremists," Obama said.
At a press briefing following the closed-door session, Obama said that "If we try to do everything ourselves all across the Mideast, all across North Africa, we'll be playing whack-a-mole and there will be a whole lot of unintended consequences that make us less secure."
Obama warned Americans to expect a "generational" fight against ISIS.
"This will not be quick," Obama said. "This is a long-term campaign. ISIL is opportunistic and it is nimble," he said. "It will take time to root them out."
On the subject of pay, Obama did not rule out vetoing the National Defense Authorization Act but said that he had been president for more than six years and "our service members have not missed a paycheck" through other budget impasses.
"Our men and women are going to get paid," Obama said, but he would not accept a defense budget that "shortchanges our requirements for new technology, for readiness" and for other requirements to build a military for the future.
He urged Congress to send him a budget that was "realistic" and not one that "continues to fund things that are not necessary."
Obama said his current strategy was making progress in Iraq and Syria while noting that ISIS was resilient and adaptable. He said he came to the Pentagon to discuss with top officials "what's working and what we can do better."
In the long-term mission to defeat ISIS, "there will be setbacks as well as progress," but "we will continue to be vigilant, we will persevere and, just as we have for more than two centuries, we will ultimately prevail."
United Nations Ambassador Samantha Power and White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough joined Obama in the closed-door session at the Pentagon, where Obama was making a rare visit.
Defense Secretary Ashton Carter and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey flanked Obama at the meeting that was also joined by Army Gen. Lloyd Austin, head of U.S. Central Command, Army Gen. James Votel, head of U.S. Special Operations Command, and Army Gen. David Rodriguez, head of U.S. Africa Command.
Even before Obama spoke, Republican critics renewed their long-standing charge that the administration lacked an effective strategy for defeating ISIS.
In a statement, Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Tex., chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said that "the president's afternoon at the Pentagon should lead him to the same conclusion I have reached from similar briefings -- his strategy to defeat ISIL isn't working. From Libya and Tunisia, to Afghanistan, ISIL continues to advance while we lose ground and time."
Thornberry, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and others have called for a more robust air campaign and the deployment of more U.S. trainers and advisers, to include JTACs (Joint Terminal Attack Controllers) to serve on the front lines with Iraqi troops to call in airstrikes.
In a statement issued after Obama's remarks, McCain said: "It is not that we are doing nothing against ISIL; it is that there is no compelling reason to believe that anything we are currently doing will be sufficient to degrade and ultimately defeat ISIL. None of the so-called progress that the President cited suggests that we are on a path to success, and when you are not winning in warfare, you are losing."
Earlier, Carter met at the Pentagon with French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian and announced that the U.S. would boost intelligence cooperation with France in the campaign against ISIS.
At a press briefing, Le Drian warned that ISIS was gathering strength. ISIS "is no longer a terrorist group. It has become a terrorist army," Le Drian said, and he noted French contributions to the air campaign and the dispatch of the French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle to the Persian Gulf to conduct airstrikes.
Carter made no mention of past differences with France on the invasion of Iraq, NATO commitments and recent charges of U.S. eavesdropping on top French officials.
Instead, Carter hailed France as "one of our strongest allies," and said "I commended Minister Le Drian for his and France's commitment in the fight to deliver a lasting defeat to ISIL (another acronym for ISIS), a campaign that we agreed requires a sustained long-term effort."
"I've been working on trans-Atlantic security for a long time, both in and outside of government," Carter said, "and I think Minister Le Drian would agree [that] this is the best our defense relationship has been in a long time."
Carter cited France's commitments to fighting terrorism in Africa south of the Sahara. French military operations with U.S. logistics support were combating terrorism and drug trafficking while providing stability against the inroads of al-Qaida affiliates, Boko Haram and other extremists in Mali, Niger and Chad, Carter said.
-- Richard Sisk can be reached art Richard.Sisk@military.com