DAMASCUS, Syria - United States President Barack Obama has admitted that his country underestimated the threat posed by Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) fighters in Syria, even as the US-led coalition pressed its air campaign against the terrorists yesterday.
Mr Obama said Washington also overestimated the effectiveness of the security forces in neighbouring Iraq, which it had trained and supplied, but which collapsed across much of the Sunni Arab heartland north and west of Baghdad in the face of a lightning offensive led by ISIS in June.
As the US-led air campaign in Syria entered its seventh day, coalition strikes hit ISIS targets on Sunday night, both in its Raqa province stronghold and in Aleppo province farther west, a monitoring group said.
In Iraq, US-led strikes destroyed two ISIS checkpoints near insurgent-held Fallujah on Sunday, the Pentagon said, as Iraqi troops fought off an ISIS assault on a strategic Euphrates Valley town downstream.
Speaking to CBS News, Mr Obama admitted his administration had underestimated the opportunity that the 31/2-year-old Syrian civil war would provide for militants to regroup and stage a sudden comeback.
He said that former Al-Qaeda fighters - driven from Iraq by US forces in the years before their withdrawal in 2011 with the support of Sunni Arab tribes - had been able to regroup in Syria to form the even more dangerous ISIS.
"Our head of the intelligence community, Jim Clapper, has acknowledged that they underestimated what had been taking place in Syria," Mr Obama said, referring to his director of national intelligence.
Asked whether Washington had also overestimated the ability or will of Iraq's US-trained military to fight the terrorists on its own, Mr Obama said: "That's absolutely true."
The US President said that part of the solution would be for Syria and Iraq to resolve their domestic political crises.
An enduring solution, he said, would require "a change in how not just Iraq, but also countries like Syria and some of the other countries in the region, think about what political accommodation means".
"The Iraqis have to be willing to fight," he added. "And they have to be willing to fight in a non-sectarian way - Shia, Sunni and Kurd - alongside each other against this cancer in their midst."
Washington has said it will press on with "near continuous" strikes against ISIS in both Iraq and Syria with the support of its coalition allies.
In Syria, the raids have increasingly targeted oil and other economic infrastructure that fund the terrorists, as well as military targets.
The swathe of territory that ISIS controls straddling northwestern Iraq and eastern Syria includes most of Syria's main oil fields. Experts say the terrorists were earning as much as US$3 million (S$3.8 million) a day from black-market oil sales before the US-led air campaign began.