Skip to main content

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

By Jim Acosta, CNN Senior White House Correspondent
updated 10:07 PM EDT, Fri September 5, 2014
  • 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

Cardiff, Wales (CNN) -- 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.

Can the U.S. stop another terror attack?
Will Iran & the U.S. join to fight ISIS?
How can the U.S. 'destroy' ISIS?
World security hinges on NATO
What don't we know about ISIS

How ISIS flaunts its brutality as propaganda

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.

NATO leaders tackle packed agenda including ISIS, Ukraine, Afghanistan

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."

Why is ISIS so brutal?

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.

Inside the mind of an ISIS fighter

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.

Part of complete coverage on
updated 10:39 AM EST, Fri December 26, 2014
The latest ISIS-appointed governor of Mosul was killed in coalition airstrikes on Christmas Day, according to Iraqi police.
updated 11:56 AM EST, Fri December 26, 2014
A coalition pilot was captured by ISIS after a Jordanian military plane crashed in Syria.
updated 8:50 AM EST, Thu December 25, 2014
Author Juergen Todenhoefer says ISIS are "more dangerous than people realize."
updated 10:47 AM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
There's yet another new name for ISIS among those fighting against the terror group. Daesh.
updated 8:30 PM EST, Mon December 1, 2014
The FBI warns U.S military that ISIS are looking for individuals who may be interested in carrying out attacks on home soil.
updated 11:07 AM EST, Mon December 1, 2014
Iraq's Prime Minister says there is evidence of 50,000 soldiers being paid while inactive.
updated 6:17 PM EST, Mon December 1, 2014
Pentagon insider Ashton Carter is expected to be President Barack Obama's nominee for Defense Secretary.
updated 6:32 PM EST, Wed November 12, 2014
Wolf Blitzer talks to Rep. Ed Royce about the White House's new ISIS strategy that involves removing Bashar al-Assad.
updated 6:36 AM EST, Thu November 13, 2014
Just two weeks ago, Yasir was regularly strapped into an explosive vest and handed guns and a radio to stand guard at an ISIS base in Syria.
updated 5:49 PM EST, Wed November 12, 2014
How did three U.S. teenagers become radicalized? CNN's Pamela Brown reports.
updated 9:26 PM EST, Tue November 4, 2014
Reza Aslan examines the appeal of ISIS and why the group is able to successfully attract so many recruits.
updated 9:18 AM EST, Mon November 3, 2014
CNN's Nick Paton Walsh takes a look at how ISIS is using media to desensitize children.
updated 7:33 PM EDT, Sun October 26, 2014
A new propaganda video from ISIS features a Canadian ISIS member who died in combat.
Explore CNN's interactive that explains ISIS' roots, what it controls, and where its support comes from.