Obama’s anti-terror visits this week include Pentagon stop, but no strategy changes expected



President Obama this week will visit the Pentagon and the National Counterterrorism Center, high-profile stops to try to allay Americans’ concerns about the growing domestic and global terror threat posed by the Islamic State (ISIS).

On Monday, Obama will visit the Pentagon where he is expected to further explain his plan to stop the extremist group. But he is not expected to announce any significant strategy changes.

The event follows his Dec. 6 Oval Office address that critics say didn’t reassure the public and failed to provide an updated strategy to stop ISIS.

The address came four days after the San Bernardino, Calif. terror attacks in which 14 people were fatally shot and 21 others were wounded.

The Obama administration says this week’s visits will also serve as further warning that the rhetoric of frontrunner GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump could embolden extremists looking to pull the United States into a war with Islam.

“Terrorists like ISIL are trying to divide us along lines of religion and background,” Obama said Saturday in his weekly radio and Internet address, using an acronym for the extremist group. “That’s how they stoke fear. That’s how they recruit.”

In the coming week, he said, “we’ll move forward on all fronts.”

The visits also follow the Paris suicide bombing attacks last month, for which ISIS claimed responsibility and in which 130 people were killed.

Seven in 10 Americans rated the risk of a terrorist attack in the U.S. as at least somewhat  high, according to an Associated Press-GfK poll.

That was a sharp increase from the 5 in 10 who said that in January. U.S. officials have insisted there are no specific, credible threats to the country.

But the apparent lack of warning before the San Bernardino attack has fueled concerns about whether the U.S. has a handle on potential attacks, especially during high-profile times such as the end-of-year holidays.

A Muslim husband-wife team carried out the deadly Dec. 2 attack at a holiday party.

FBI Director James Comey told Capitol Hill lawmakers Wednesday that each was radicalized on their own at least two years ago and bonded over online talk of “jihad” and “martyrdom.”

Investigators originally suspected wife Tashfeen Malik, 29, radicalized her husband after she came to the U.S. in July 2014 on a fiancée visa. But they now believe Syed Farook, 28, was already committed to radical Islam before they met.

In addition, Malik got the visa despite apparently expressing her desire on social media to commit jihad.

Obama’s trip to the Pentagon marks a rare meeting outside the White House by his National Security Council and will be followed by a public update about the fight against ISIS.

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said Obama does not intend to announce any major changes in approach.

“If there’s an opportunity for us to intensify efforts behind one aspect of our strategy, then that is something that he wants his team to be prepared to do,” Earnest said.

On Thursday, at the National Counterterrorism Center, which analyzes intelligence at its facility in suburban Virginia, Obama plans to address reporters after a briefing by intelligence and security agencies on threat assessments.

Obama receives a similar briefing each year before the holidays.

Concerns about extremism emanating from the Middle East have taken center stage in the presidential race.

Obama has tried to use his bully pulpit as a counterpoint to GOP front-runner Trump and his widely condemned proposal to bar Muslims from entering the U.S., and to push back on other politicians insisting on halting resettlement of Syrian refugees in the U.S.

The White House has also scheduled a conference call Monday with religious leaders about ways to fight discrimination and promote religious tolerance.

And Obama is to speak Tuesday at the National Archives Museum, where 31 immigrants from Iraq, Ethiopia, Uganda and 23 other nations will be sworn in as U.S. citizens. He plans to use that occasion to reframe the national conversation about immigrants around the country’s founding values of tolerance and freedom.

Despite Obama’s reassurances, Republicans say Obama has failed to grasp the severity of the risk.

Rep. Will Hurd, R-Texas, said the threat from ISIS and other terrorist groups presents “a clear and present danger to the United States.”

“We can’t contain this threat. We have to defeat it,” Hurd said in the weekly GOP address. “To defeat ISIS, we have to be in this for the longhaul.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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