WASHINGTON - The Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria is on the defensive and "their cause is lost," US President Barack Obama said Wednesday after meeting with CIA chiefs and other security officials.
Obama paid a rare visit to CIA headquarters in Virginia to discuss progress of Operation Inherent Resolve, the 20-month-old US-led campaign against IS jihadists in Iraq and Syria.
"ISIL is on the defensive, and we are on the offensive," Obama said, using an IS acronym. "We have momentum, and we intend to keep that momentum." Obama pointed to recent US air strikes that killed three senior IS leaders and a report this week showing the group's ranks are at their lowest level since 2014.
"In the days and weeks ahead we intend to take out more (leaders.) Every day, ISIL leaders wake up and understand it could be their last," Obama said.
"Their ranks of fighters are estimated to be at the lowest levels in two years and more and more are realizing that their cause is lost," he added.
Obama stressed the importance of ending the five-year civil war in Syria as key to facilitating a lasting defeat of the IS group.
"So we continue to work for a diplomatic end to this awful conflict," he said.
Earlier Wednesday, Baghdad-based spokesman Colonel Steve Warren said the US-led coalition campaign had successfully entered the second "phase" of operations.
The coalition is working through three main steps as it wages its 20-month-old fight against the IS group, Warren said.
"Our enemy has been weakened and we now are working to fracture him. Phase one of the military campaign is complete," Warren told Pentagon reporters, noting that this initial step was to "degrade" the IS group by stopping it from making additional territorial gains.
"We are now in phase two, which is to dismantle this enemy," he added.
Warren said the final phase of the campaign is to ensure the IS group is dealt a lasting defeat, primarily by enabling local forces to prevent a resurgence of jihadist influence.
Though the IS group maintains a firm grip on vast areas of the two countries, the jihadists have suffered some serious setbacks including the loss of Ramadi in Iraq.
"While ISIL can still put together some complex attacks, they have not been able to take hold of any key terrain for almost a year now," Warren said.