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Islamic State releases defiant message as U.S. lawmakers criticize strategy to defeat the group – Part 1

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  • GWEN IFILL:

    Now to the Islamic State group.

    Earlier today, a defiant message from its leader was distributed, as lawmakers here in Washington took aim at the president's strategy to take down the group.

    Chief foreign affairs correspondent Margaret Warner reports.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    It's the first time the Islamic State leader has been heard from since Iraqi officials claimed he'd been wounded or even killed in airstrikes a week ago. The 17-minute recording vows I.S. will never surrender the fight, calls for attacking the rulers of Saudi Arabia, and taunts the U.S.-led coalition.

    ABU BAKR AL-BAGHDADI, Islamic State leader (through interpreter): Soon, the Jews and crusaders will be forced to come down to the ground and send their ground forces to their deaths and destruction. Here is Obama, who has ordered the deployment of 1,500 additional soldiers under the claim that they are advisers because the crusaders' airstrikes have not prevented the Islamic State's advance, nor weakened its resolve.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    It's unclear when the recording was made, but it surfaced as Pentagon leaders told a House hearing there's been steady and sustainable progress against the Islamic State, also known as ISIL.

  • Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel:

    CHUCK HAGEL, Secretary of Defense: This pressure is having an effect on potential ISIL recruits and collaborators, striking a blow to morale and recruitment. We know that. Our intelligence is very clear on that. And as Iraqi forces build strength, the tempo and intensity of our coalition's air campaign will accelerate in tandem.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    But California Democrat Loretta Sanchez questioned the faith in Iraqi troops. She noted to General Martin Dempsey, chair of the Joint Chiefs, that the previous effort to train Iraqi forces clearly failed.

    REP. LORETTA SANCHEZ, (D) California: What are you doing to change that so that these men actually do take the fight to ISIL and our men and women don't have boots on the ground?

    GEN. MARTIN DEMPSEY, Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff: One of the important assumptions about this campaign is that the Iraqi government does establish its intent to create a government of national unity. I can predict for you right now, if that doesn't happen, then the Iraqi security forces will not hold together.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    Dempsey left open the possibility that in special circumstances American troops, now called trainers and advisers, might have to more actively involved in the field to assist Iraqis.

  • GEN. MARTIN DEMPSEY:

    There are some places along the path that I think will be fairly complex terrain for them, including, for example, Mosul and eventually as they need to restore the border between Iraq and Syria. I'm not predicting at this point that I would recommend that those forces in Mosul and along the border would need to be accompanied by U.S. forces, but we're certainly considering it.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    The hearing also focused on an ongoing dispute within the coalition over U.S. strategy in Syria. Partners like Turkey and Saudi Arabia say Washington's focus on airstrikes and training moderate Syrian rebels to fight Islamic State forces is unrealistic, that it does not take on President Bashar al-Assad. And some members of Congress agree.

    But Secretary Hagel today defended the administration's Iraq-first strategy as the most urgent and realistic.

  • CHUCK HAGEL:

    When you look at what ISIL dominates now, the swathe of the control they have, Eastern Syria, much of north and western Iraq, you could change Assad today and that's not going to change all the dynamics quickly, certainly in Syria.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    Later today, Syrian opposition leaders said Islamic State and al-Qaida's branch in Syria, the al-Nusra Front, have agreed to stop fighting each other and work together. If true, that would deal a further blow to the moderate opposition.

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