(CNSNews.com) – A White House spokesman on Wednesday said the attempt by al-Qaeda affiliates to establish their own nation in the Middle East is a “serious” threat, but different than the threat posed by “core al-Qaida.”
“At this point, it appears to pose a different kind of threat to the United States' interests, but a serious threat and one we continue to be concerned about,” spokesman Josh Earnest said.
“Different in what way?” a reporter asked.
“Well, different in that core al-Qaida had repeatedly and publicly vowed to attack the United States homeland. The threat in the region that we're talking about now appears to be somewhat different, but it's one that we are watching very carefully for a variety of reasons -- because they've proven to be very violent, because they've demonstrated a willingness to consider targeting American interests and American allies.”
A Sunni group called “Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant” (ISIL) has taken over two Iraqi cities in two days, and now it’s vowing to take Baghdad as well. Many of the U.S.-trained Iraqi security forces fled instead of fighting, abandoning their U.S.-supplied equipment to the terrorists.
Earnest said President Obama has been “closely focused” on the attempt by ISIL to form their own Islamic nation stretching from Syria to Iraq.
“It's the reason that we value the cooperative relationship we have with a lot of governments in this region,” Earnest said. “And it's the reason that the president is considering things like the Counterterrorism Partnership Fund to make sure that we are devoting the necessary resources to cooperate with our partners in these areas, to protect the United States of America and our interests and our allies.”
What explains the different treatment of Syria and Iraq, when the two nations are battling the same “radical elements,” a reporter asked Earnest. (The U.S. advocates the Syrian regime’s overthrow, yet it is supporting Iraq’s al-Maliki government.)
“Well, Syria is different in a couple of ways,” Earnest said. “The first is that Mr. Assad has repeatedly used his armed forces to attack his own people, including those that were not involved in the conflict.”
Earnest noted that Obama’s approach to Syria is to support the “moderate opposition” with both military and non-military assistance.
“And that is assistance that we are constantly reviewing. And we're routinely looking for ways to offer the kind of assistance that would be most effective. And, as I mentioned earlier, we've also provided assistance in the form of humanitarian aid for those who have been displaced or caught in the crossfire.
“And so we have demonstrated a pretty comprehensive approach, but the tactics and strategy of the Assad regime to use the military might of that country against the Syrian people is despicable. And it's the reason that we have for some time now have been calling on a political transition to take place in Syria.”
On Wednesday, the White House repeatedly used the word “concern” or “concerned” when asked for its response to the crisis in Iraq, and while the administration is promising “all appropriate assistance” to the al-Maliki government, Earnest couldn’t say what that means.
"At this point, I don't have any details."
Earnest also said President Obama is “genuinely concerned” about the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who have been forced to flee the fighting. “[T]here's no doubt that we've noticed that the situation is getting worse,” he said.