Obama: We are hitting ISIS harder than ever before

President Obama during a visit to the Pentagon on Monday touted a hike in the number of airstrikes the U.S. and its allies are using against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

“We are hitting ISIL harder than ever,” Obama, using another term for the terrorist group, said during a trip to the Pentagon, where he met with top national security officials and military brass.  

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He said U.S. forces have accelerated the pace of airstrikes against the terror network, completing 9,000 as of today. Obama also said the U.S. and its allies have taken out more than half a dozen key ISIS leaders. 

“ISIL leaders cannot hide, and our message to them is simple: You are next,” Obama said. 

The tough talk from Obama and his visit to the Pentagon comes during a challenging time for his national security policy.

Terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, Calif., that were carried out by or inspired by ISIS have raised new fears about the group’s efforts to create mayhem. They have also raised new doubts about Obama’s foreign policy, according to polls.

Almost one in five named it as the nation's top problem in a new Gallup survey, a an increase of more than five fold since last year. A CNN/ORC poll released late last month showed 60 percent of Americans disapproved of Obama’s handling of terrorism, compared to 38 percent who approved.
 
Republican presidential candidates have hammered Obama’s response to ISIS, while Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton has distanced herself from Obama comments that ISIS has been “contained.”

Obama’s visit to the Pentagon is a follow-up to an Oval Office address he made a week ago in which he sought to reassure the public about his administration’s response to ISIS. The address was panned by critics, who said the president did not do enough to assuage Americans’ concerns about the threat posed by ISIS. 

The trip also comes ahead of Obama’s planned vacation to Hawaii, the home state he has visited on an annual basis at Christmas.

Obama, flanked at the Pentagon podium by the Vice President Biden and Defense Sec. Ash Carter, said U.S. forces and partners on the ground will continue to focus on taking away territory from ISIS.

He said that “as we squeeze its heart, we will make it harder for ISIL to pump its terror to the rest of the world.”
 
Obama confirmed in his remarks that the special operations forces mission in Syria has begun.
 
“The special forces that I ordered to Syria have begun supporting the local forces they pushed south, cut off supply lines, and tightened the squeeze on Raqqa,” Obama said of ISIS’ de facto capital city in Syria.
 
He claimed the group has lost 40 percent of its territory in Iraq.
 
Obama acknowledged more needs to be done to defeat the group. He announced he is sending Defense Secretary Ashton Carter to the Middle East today to “secure more military contributions” from its Arab allies. 
 
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, Vice Chairman Air Force Gen. Paul Selva, Central Command Commander Army Gen. Lloyd Austin and Special Operations Command Commander Army Gen. Joseph Votel were also in the backdrop for Obama's comments. 

The Republican National Committee blasted out a statement after the meeting calling it a "politically motivated photo-op." 

"We need a new strategy to defeat ISIS and keep America safe from radical Islamic terrorists, not a new public relations campaign to protect President Obama and Hillary Clinton’s poll numbers," RNC spokesman Michael Short said in an email. 

On Thursday, the president will make a stop at the National Counterterrorism Center to receive a briefing on the government’s efforts to thwart terror plots against the U.S. before the holidays. 

In detailing his strategy, Obama is looking to draw a contrast with Republican presidential front runner Donald Trump, who has called for a ban on Muslim immigration to the U.S. . 
 
White House officials are holding a conference call with religious leaders on Monday to discuss ways to fight discrimination and promote tolerance, press secretary Josh Earnest said. 
 
Top Obama aides, including senior adviser Valerie Jarrett, are holding separate meetings with Muslim-American and Sikh groups.