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Obama Admits US Underestimated Islamic State Fighters

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DAMASCUS – United States President Barack Obama admitted that the US underestimated the threat posed by Islamic State (IS) fighters in Syria, as US-led coalition warplanes pounded the oil sites that fund the extremist group.

Late Sunday coalition planes hit the entrance to the country’s main gas plant, in an apparent warning to IS militants to abandon the premises under their control, a monitor said.

“The international coalition has for the first time struck the entrance and prayer area of the Coneco gas plant. It is under IS control, and is the largest in Syria,” said Syrian Observatory for Human Rights director Rami Abdel Rahman here yesterday.

Up until Sunday, the strikes had targeted mainly militant bases and makeshift oil refineries used by the militants, in a bid to weaken one of their main sources of financing.

Speaking to CBS News, Obama said that former Al-Qaeda fighters driven from Iraq by US and local forces had been able to gather in Syria to form the newly dangerous IS group.

“I think our head of the intelligence community, Jim Clapper, has acknowledged that they underestimated what had been taking place in Syria,” Obama said, referring to his director of national intelligence.

Asked whether Washington had also overestimated the ability or will of Iraq’s US-trained military to fight the militants on its own, Obama said: “That’s true. That’s absolutely true.”

US-led coalition planes pounded oil sites in Syria Sunday that fund the IS group, as Syria’s Al-Qaeda branch warned that people in Europe and America would pay the price.

The US, along with coalition partners Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, targeted four modular refineries and an IS command and control post, all north of Raqa in Syria, US Central Command said.

“Initial indications are that they (the strikes) were successful,” it said.

In his first speech since air raids were launched on Syria, the head of the Al-Qaeda affiliate there, Al-Nusra Front, warned of reprisals.

“Your leaders will not pay the price for the war alone, you will pay the higher price,” Abu Mohammad al-Jolani said in an internet audio message, addressing “people of America and Europe”.

Failure to stop these air strikes “will transfer the battle to your very homes”, he said.

Washington has said it would press on with “near continuous” strikes, and the latest raids were part of intensifying efforts to disrupt the group’s lucrative oil-pumping and smuggling operations. – AFP

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