President Barack Obama claims that U.S. intelligence agencies underestimated the threat posed to the West by ISIS militants. Meanwhile, the Syrian branch of al-Qaida has threatened to attack the West to avenge airstrikes in Syria and Iraq by the U.S. military.
"I think our head of the intelligence community, Jim Clapper, has acknowledged that they underestimated what had been taking place in Syria," Obama said on CBS' "60 Minutes."
Some in the intelligence community pushed back Monday against Obama's charge that faulty intelligence was to blame for his underestimation of the ISIS threat. An unnamed official told Fox News that Obama was provided options to target senior ISIS officials for 18 months prior to the air strikes, but "every option was denied."
ISIS, also known as ISIL or the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, is an al-Qaida offshoot that wants to form an Islamic caliphate in the Levant region through violent "jihad." The terror group has gained control of large swathes of territories in Iraq and Syria.
"During the chaos of the Syrian civil war, where essentially you have huge swaths of the country that are completely ungoverned, they were able to reconstitute themselves and take advantage of that chaos," the president said of the terror groups.
ISIS is believed to have hundreds of foreign fighters, including those from the United States and Europe. Its men have killed hundreds of civilians in Iraq. Numerous members of the Christian and Yazidi minorities have also been killed, and tens of thousands of them have fled their homes.
Obama added that the U.S. overestimated the capability of the Iraqi army.
The president also acknowledged that the U.S.-led military campaign against ISIS will be an advantage for Syria's embattled President Bashar al-Assad, who is accused of war crimes. "I recognize the contradiction in a contradictory land and a contradictory circumstance. We are not going to stabilize Syria under the rule of Assad."
Obama explained that the threat from ISIS and other terror groups in Syria is a more "immediate concern that has to be dealt with."
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"On the other hand, in terms of immediate threats to the United States, ISIL, Khorasan Group, those folks could kill Americans," he said.
ISIS recently released a video showing the beheading of a 44-year-old British aid worker, David Haines, the father of two who went to Syria to serve at a refugee camp.
The Sunni terror group previously released two more videos showing the beheadings of U.S. journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff, and has threatened to kill more Western hostages.
Meanwhile, the head of Sunni militant group Nusra Front, a Syrian branch of al-Qaida which has also been hit by U.S.-led airstrikes, said Islamist militants will attack the West in retaliation, according to Reuters.
"Muslims will not watch while their sons are bombed. Your leaders will not be the only ones who would pay the price of the war. You will pay the heaviest price," Abu Mohamad al-Golani was quoted as saying in an audio message posted on pro-Nusra forums.
The Nusra Front group sees ISIS as a rival, but the airstrikes would put pressure on it to reconcile with ISIS.