Former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta contradicted President Obama’s claim the Islamic State is now contained, telling Neil Cavuto on Tuesday afternoon that containment should not be the goal—defeating the enemy should be.
Panetta called the terrorist organization’s coordinated attacks in Paris that killed more than 130 people an act of war and called for the world to unify in fighting the caliphate.
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"He's [Obama] actually defined the right mission, to degrade, dismantle and defeat ISIS [the Islamic State]. That is the fundamental mission," Panetta said. "It isn't about containment. It is about defeating ISIS. I think if there's anything that we ought to understand from these last events, it's that we have to go to war against this brutal enemy."
The statement refers to Obama’s assessment on the morning of the Paris attacks that he had contained ISIS, ignoring advances the organization has made in Sinai, Nigeria, Libya, and other regions. Panetta called for the president to lead the international community with a united resolve to destroy the terrorist group.
"One thing I've been concerned about in this country and I realize this is the political season, you know, there's just an awful lot of divisions in this country right now," Panetta said. "When you're confronting an enemy like ISIS, I think we have to come together and the president is the commander in chief and I believe that it is very important for the president of the United States now to take leadership, have the United States exercise greater leadership here to bring the world together."
Cavuto pressed Panetta to give his own assessment of how Obama has handled the Islamic State. The former Defense Secretary from 2011 to 2013 pushed back on Obama’s claim that his critics seek to drag the U.S. into another long, drawn-out, ground war in the Middle East. He called for the U.S. to do more to help defeat the terror group.
"I think that it is important not to just think this is about putting 140,000 U.S. troops on the ground. that isn't the choice. Nobody supports that," Panetta said. "But I do think at the same time that we have a responsibility to increase our effort in that part of the world, increase our intelligence presence, increase our special forces presence there as well and work with other countries in the region and work with NATO."
Panetta, who has had a rough relationship with Obama, further explained that airstrikes alone would not be effective.
"I do think that the military understands that right now the best way to deal with this is to have additional special forces that can work with other countries, work withe ground forces of other countries to be able to identify targets, to conduct the kind of air attacks," Panetta said.
"I mean, air attacks are great but at the same time if you don't have good targets on the ground it doesn't do much in terms of destabilizing the enemy. We've got to identify better targets on the ground and need to have special forces that can better coordinate ground operations. Ground operations by the Kurds, ground operations by the Sunnis. This is a war and we're going to have to unify under one command to conduct this war."