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Obama: US 'underestimated' Islamic State threat

Published:Tuesday | September 30, 2014 | 12:00 AM

WASHINGTON (AP): President Barack Obama is acknowledging that US intelligence agencies underestimated the threat from Islamic State militants in the Middle East and overestimated the ability and will of Iraq's army to fight such extremists.

Obama described the US intelligence assessments in response to a question during a CBS '60 Minutes' interview that aired Sunday, in which he also conceded that the US-led military campaign against that group and an al-Qaida affiliate in Syria was helping Syrian dictator Bashar Assad, a man the UN has accused of war crimes.

But Obama said he had no choice but to order US air strikes on Assad's enemies, the Islamic State and the Khorasan group because, he said, "those folks could kill Americans."

The Islamic State group, which derived from but has broken with al-Qaida, has taken control of large sections of Iraq and Syria. The Khorasan group is a cell of militants that the US said is plotting attacks against the West in cooperation with the Nusra front, Syria's al-Qaida affiliate.

Obama was asked how Islamic State fighters had come to control so much territory in Syria and Iraq and whether it was a surprise to him. The president said that during the Iraq war, US military forces, with the help of Iraq's Sunni tribes, were able to quash al-Qaida fighters, who went "back underground".