November 15th, 2015
11:50 AM ET

Rhodes on the fight against ISIS: “There are going to be setbacks”

SOTU

Today on CNN’s State of the Union, assistant to the President and deputy national security advisor for strategic communications and speech writing Ben Rhodes, joined anchor, Jake Tapper to discuss the Paris attacks and the threat of ISIS.

 

For more information, see http://cnnpressroom.blogs.cnn.com/. Also, text highlights and a transcript of the discussion are below.

 

MANDATORY CREDIT: CNN’s “State of the Union”

 

Contacts: Lauren Pratapas — Lauren.Pratapas@turner.com; 202.465.6666; Zachary Lilly – Zachary.Lilly@turner.com

 

TEXT HIGHLIGHTS

Rhodes responding to President Obama’s comments about containing ISIS: “Well, again, Jake, as you noted, it's a very specific point the president was making, that we had seen over a year ago ISIL on the march in both Iraq and Syria, taking more and more territory. What we have been able to do is stop that advance and reclaim territory, going on the offense with our partners on the ground most recently taking the strategic town of Sinjar, which cuts off the supply line between Raqqa in Syria and Mosul in Iraq.  So, we have made advances that are very important, because that shrinks the space where ISIL can operate and puts pressure on their safe haven. But we see this as a group with global ambitions.  And we have to be one step ahead of ISIL every time, if we can.  That's why, for instance, we took a strike at ISIL's leader in Libya, because we see them trying to get a foothold there as well.”

 

Rhodes on the long-term plan against ISIS: “The president has always been very clear this is a long-term campaign.  There are going to be setbacks, including tragic setbacks, like what we saw in Paris, that, obviously, it was an outrageous attack against one of our closest allies, and, as the president said, against all of humanity. The fact is, what we have to do is very methodically and relentlessly degrade this threat.  We have built an intelligence apparatus to collect intelligence against ISIL.  We're taking out leadership targets.  We have targeted Jihadi John in Syria, again, the leader in Libya that I mentioned. But, obviously, what doing here in Turkey is talking to many of our other coalition partners about what we can do together to continue to apply pressure on ISIL, even as build on the work that was done in Vienna to try to achieve a diplomatic resolution to the Syrian conflict that can bring that fighting to an end.”

 

Rhodes on the possibility of France invoking Article V: “That's a French decision.  So, the French will make the decision about whether to invoke Article V. We stand ready to do whatever is necessary to support France in this time of tragedy.  We already have close military coordination in Iraq and Syria.  But we're prepared to ramp that up.  France has a two-star general who is in CENTCOM to facilitate that coordination. And what we will be looking is, how we can take strikes, take efforts with France in the days ahead to ensure that there's justice for this attack and that we're making clear that there's not going to be a safe haven for ISIL?”
 

FULL TRANSCRIPT

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

 

JAKE TAPPER:  With the president in Turkey is Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes.

Ben, thanks for joining us.

I want to get to that remark from the president in a moment.

But, first, I know you have said that there is no specific credible threat to the U.S. homeland.  What can you tell us about the investigation in Europe?  The Paris deputy mayor is telling CNN that they don't know if the attack is over.

Does the United States believe all the attackers have been apprehended?  Is there a reason to believe there may still be accomplices on the run?

BEN RHODES, U.S. DEPUTY NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER:  Well, Jake, first of all, we agree very much with the French assessment that, in all likelihood, this bears the hallmark of ISIL.

In terms of the ongoing investigation, I really will let the French speak to that.  What I will say, Jake, is that, after incidents like this that are multifaceted and complex, it's very important to pull every thread that you have to make sure that there are not accomplices who are still on the loose, in part because those people can pose a threat, but also, frankly, because they can help you understand better what happened.

So, right now, I'm sure there's a very vigorous effort, supported by our intelligence-sharing, to try to identify anybody who is connected at all with these attackers.

TAPPER:  Ben, about the president's phrasing about ISIS or ISIL being contained, I know that he was specifically talking about the Iraq-Syria battlefield.

But he made that - the comment after the terrorist attack against the Russian airliner, after the suicide bombings in Beirut.  If this is what ISIS looks like contained, I shudder to think what ISIS looks like uncontained.

RHODES:  Well, again, Jake, as you noted, it's a very specific point the president was making, that we had seen over a year ago ISIL on the march in both Iraq and Syria, taking more and more territory.

What we have been able to do is stop that advance and reclaim territory, going on the offense with our partners on the ground most recently taking the strategic town of Sinjar, which cuts off the supply line between Raqqa in Syria and Mosul in Iraq.  So, we have made advances that are very important, because that shrinks the space where ISIL can operate and puts pressure on their safe haven.

But we see this as a group with global ambitions.  And we have to be one step ahead of ISIL every time, if we can.  That's why, for instance, we took a strike at ISIL's leader in Libya, because we see them trying to get a foothold there as well.

TAPPER:  One step ahead?  We don't seem to be one step ahead of any terrorist group these days.

David Axelrod, former senior adviser for President Obama, saying on CNN last night - quote - "Obviously, the emergence of ISIS was not what was anticipated, and it is going to be an issue in this election."

I think people are concerned that not only has the president underestimated ISIS in the past, calling them a J.V. team, but that he may continue to underestimate them.

I don't want to get into litigating the whole J.V. thing, but this is the worst atrocity in France since Hitler.

RHODES:  Jake, there is no question that this is a very significant threat that is going to pose a long-term challenge.

The president has always been very clear this is a long-term campaign.  There are going to be setbacks, including tragic setbacks, like what we saw in Paris, that, obviously, it was an outrageous attack against one of our closest allies, and, as the president said, against all of humanity.

The fact is, what we have to do is very methodically and relentlessly degrade this threat.  We have built an intelligence apparatus to collect intelligence against ISIL.  We're taking out leadership targets.  We have targeted Jihadi John in Syria, again, the leader in Libya that I mentioned.

But, obviously, what doing here in Turkey is talking to many of our other coalition partners about what we can do together to continue to apply pressure on ISIL, even as build on the work that was done in Vienna to try to achieve a diplomatic resolution to the Syrian conflict that can bring that fighting to an end.

TAPPER:  I think there is a question about how good this intelligence apparatus is, Christiane Amanpour - Christiane Amanpour reporting this morning that at least one of the terrorists, according to French authorities, seems to have smuggled himself into Europe by embedding with refugees.

Ben, are you confident enough in our vetting process as the United States brings Syrian refugees into our country to pledge that this will never happen here?

RHODES:  Well, first of all, Jake, the threat of foreign fighters has been front and center from the very beginning of this counter-ISIL campaign.  We have made that a focus, so that we're working with countries to share information, to improve their laws and authorities to be able to monitor and detain people.

And we're going to continue to do that.  That will be a focus of discussion here in Turkey.  With respect to refugees, we have the most extensive security vetting that we have ever had to deal with Syrian refugees coming into the United States that involves not just the Department of Homeland Security and the State Department, but also our intelligence community, the National Counterterrorism Center, so that anybody who comes to the United States, we are carefully vetting against all of our information.

And let's not forget, Jake, that some of these people are people who have suffered the horrors of war.  They're women.  They're orphans.  They're children who have suffered at the hands of ISIL.  We cannot close our doors to these people.  We can focus on keeping terrorists out of the United States while having an open door to people who deserve a safe haven.

TAPPER:  French President Hollande described this attack as an act of war.

If France goes to NATO and tries to invoke Article V of the NATO treaty, an attack on one is an attack on all, will the United States support France?

RHODES:  Well, Jake, absolutely.  That's a French decision.  So, the French will make the decision about whether to invoke Article V.

We stand ready to do whatever is necessary to support France in this time of tragedy.  We already have close military coordination in Iraq and Syria.  But we're prepared to ramp that up.  France has a two-star general who is in CENTCOM to facilitate that coordination.

And what we will be looking is, how we can take strikes, take efforts with France in the days ahead to ensure that there's justice for this attack and that we're making clear that there's not going to be a safe haven for ISIL?

TAPPER:  Why are you ready to ramp it up now?  Why aren't - you already ramped it up?

RHODES:  Well, we have, Jake.

We have been conducting thousands of airstrikes over the course of the last year.  What we're talking about is getting additional support from allies and partners, I think, who can do more with us in providing support to opposition on the ground and providing the types of airstrikes that can take out ISIL leaders and deny them the critical infrastructure that they depend on.

What we have seen, Jake, is there are elements of the strategy that, when they're properly resourced, they work in rolling back ISIL, as we saw in Sinjar with the Kurds on the offense, as we have seen in these leadership targets.  We have to do more of that.

And we're going to be able to do that, for instance, with the special operations contingent that will be going to Syria to help facilitate those operations.  So, we are in an effort to intensify those elements of the strategy that are yielding progress, even as we have to constantly evaluate how the threat is changing and what more needs to be done to deal with the threat.

TAPPER:  Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes, thanks so much.

RHODES:  Thanks, Jake.

 

 

 

###END INTERVIEW###

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