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World

U.S.-Led Campaign Claws Back Turf From ISIS

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

President Obama has reason to be optimistic about the campaign against ISIS. A map showing its territory would show it shrinking. The Islamic State has lost about a quarter of the ground it once controlled. Figuring out how to take back more ground will top the agenda today at CIA headquarters in Langley, Va. Obama is convening his National Security Council there as NPR's Mary Louise Kelly reports.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, BYLINE: The president will arrive at Langley with fresh good news in hand. According to the State Department, in Syria and Iraq the number of fighters for ISIS, or ISIL as it's also known, is lower than any time in the past two years. It's fair to say that in Washington these days, there is a sense that maybe - maybe - the tide of the war is turning. Listen to Defense Secretary Ash Carter sounding bullish about the prospect of, as he puts it, getting this over with.

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SEC OF DEFENSE ASHTON CARTER: I'm confident we'll defeat ISIL. I have no question in my mind about it, but the sooner the better.

KELLY: But Fran Townsend, who sat through many National Security Council sessions as President Bush's homeland security adviser, says, hang on.

FRANCES TOWNSEND: You know, president's hold NSC meetings to discuss a topic 'cause they're not satisfied with progress. So I suspect this discussion is an indication the president wants to see greater progress more quickly.

KELLY: You could point to the fact that ISIS still controls the key cities of Mosul and Raqqa. You could point to the fact that there's currently no force on the ground strong enough to defeat them militarily. And you could point out that clawing back turf from ISIS is one thing. Holding it is another. Defense Secretary Carter.

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CARTER: Our overall strategic approach is not just to defeat ISIL but to keep them defeated.

KELLY: That means training local fighters in Iraq and Syria. And it means doing so on a tight timetable. When he sits down at the table at Langley today, Mr. Obama will do so knowing he has just over nine months left as president. Mary Louise Kelly, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.