The president’s remarks, which come as the administration considers its next steps in fighting ISIS, followed a rare trip to CIA headquarters to meet with his National Security Council to discuss the campaign against the terrorist group and the situation in Syria.The meeting also comes a week before the president’s planned meeting with Gulf leaders in Saudi Arabia next week to discuss the destabilizing threat ISIS poses.
The Obama administration has said it has made progress against the terrorist group in Iraq and that the United States is safer overall. However, Obama and other officials also acknowledge that there are more terrorists globally and cite the growth of ISIS in Syria and Iraq, as well as other places.
“This remains a difficult fight and a complex one,” said Obama, who made no major announcements and took no questions.
But “we are focused, and we are going to win,” he promised.
Obama has increasingly asked for stepped-up assistance from world leaders — most recently in comments to a gathering of more than 50 world leaders at the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington last month.
ISIS “has already used chemical weapons — there is no doubt if these madmen ever got their hands on a bomb or nuclear material, they would use it to kill as many as possible,” Obama told the gathering.
But the administration has faced criticism from lawmakers, Republican presidential candidates and some military experts for its strategy to defeat ISIS. That strategy, largely dependent on airstrikes and training of local fighters, is shortsighted, Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, has said repeatedly.
In October, the administration announced that it would send a small number of U.S. special operations forces into Syria, a move that signaled a subtle shift in strategy.
In February the president defended the air campaigns saying that with more than 10,000 strikes so far against the militant group, the effort “continues to destroy (ISIS) forces, infrastructure and their weapons.”
The effort in Syria, in particular, is further complicated by an ongoing dispute between the United States and Russia on the direction of Syrian leadership.
Current and former U.S. officials told NBC News that in 2012, Obama refused to approve a CIA proposal for a covert plan aimed at removing Syrian President Bashar Assad from power. But Obama said Wednesday at the CIA that Assad’s removal from power is essential.
This story originally appeared on NBCNews.com.