Key White House adviser: U.S. will fight ISIS with a coalition

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Story highlights

  • A key national security adviser says the U.S. would "absolutely" secure an international coalition to defeat ISIS
  • President has yet to make a decision to conduct airstrikes in Syria, officials caution
  • British, French and Australian forces have already participated in air drops

A key national security adviser to President Barack Obama said he believes the United States will "absolutely" secure an international coalition to defeat the rapidly growing terrorist group operating in Iraq and Syria known as ISIS.

"I absolutely do believe that there will be a coalition of countries from the international community, from here in NATO, also from the region where many of the neighbors have stepped up and said they want to be a part of that type of effort," Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes said in an interview Thursday with CNN outside the NATO summit in Wales.

"A lot of these European countries are concerned about the foreign fighters that have gone down to Iraq and Syria who have European passports. So they are very concerned that this threat in Iraq and Syria could end up posing a threat here in Europe," Rhodes said.

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The President has yet to make a decision to conduct airstrikes in Syria, White House officials cautioned.

It is also unclear how an anti-ISIS coalition would take shape. Rhodes suggested participating countries would likely serve in different roles, depending on their capabilities and appetite for a more direct military involvement in the mission.

"Intelligence. Law enforcement. Lots of ways for nations to step up to the plate and be a part of this coalition," Rhodes said.

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    In a sense, there is already a coalition assisting the United States in its current limited mission against ISIS in Iraq. British, French and Australian forces have participated in airdrops of humanitarian supplies to Iraqis and Kurds under assault from ISIS militants.

    Obama created some confusion about his strategy at a news conference in Estonia earlier this week when he said his goal was to both "degrade and destroy" ISIS and reduce the group's threat "to the point where it is a manageable problem."

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    Rhodes argued there was no inconsistency in the president's remarks, insisting the mission to defeat ISIS is a multi-step process.

    "What the president was saying is this is a phased effort and the first phase is going to have to be pushing back ISIL, getting them out of those strongholds, putting in place the coalition that can then work methodically to destroy the organization," Rhodes said.

    On a conference call with reporters Thursday, Rhodes indicated any decision to conduct airstrikes would occur after Secretary of State John Kerry, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and a White House counterterrorism adviser travel to the Middle East to gauge support in the region for an anti-ISIS coalition.

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    But Rhodes told CNN it would be difficult to ultimately destroy ISIS without dealing with the organization in Syria, where it currently enjoys a safe haven.

    "You have to deal with the challenges on both sides of the (Iraqi-Syrian) border," Rhodes said.