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CENTCOM said that between Nov. 17 and Nov. 19, US and partner nations carried out 24 airstrikes in Iraq against the Islamic State and six airstrikes against the group in Syria; the US also conducted one airstrike near Haram in northwest Syria against al Qaeda's "Khorasan Group." US military records show that the US Air Force has carried out about two-thirds of the 956 airstrikes against the Islamic State between Aug. 8 and Nov. 16. John Sopko, Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, called the US' $103-billion dollar nation-building effort in Afghanistan "an abysmal failure."
President Obama condemned the terrorist attack on worshipers at a Jerusalem synagogue that left three US citizens, a Briton, and an Israeli policeman dead and several others seriously wounded. A spokesman for the National Security Council said Obama has directed relevant departments and agencies to review the government's policies for addressing the kidnapping of US citizens by terrorist groups; the White House said that the ban on paying ransoms will not be lifted.
CENTCOM reported that since Nov. 14, US forces have conducted 11 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria, and US and partner forces have carried out 20 airstrikes in Iraq against the group. A US intelligence official indicated that US targeting in Syria and Iraq is hampered by insufficient intelligence on the ground. The American envoy to the IAEA said the US is "disappointed by Iran's failure to engage substantively" on the nuclear weapons issue. The Defense Department announced that Turkey has agreed to allow the US to start training and equipping Free Syrian Army fighters in Turkey. Secretary of State Kerry said the Islamic State does not intimidate the US.
Secretary of Defense Hagel announced plans to revitalize the US military's technological capabilities. Qatar's foreign minister warned that the US air campaign against the Islamic State in Syria is helping the Assad regime and straining Sunni-Shia relations in the Middle East; he suggested that Arab forces take over territory recaptured from the Islamic State. President Obama reiterated that the US does not plan to carry out military operations against the Assad regime. US military advisers have begun assisting Iraqi troops in Anbar province. The White House confirmed that former US soldier and Syrian aid worker Peter Kassig was beheaded by the Islamic State.
In his first visit to Iraq since the US air campaign against the Islamic State began in August, Joint Chiefs chair Gen. Martin Dempsey said that the battle against the group in Iraq is "starting to turn," but cautioned that the effort to eradicate the group will take several years. The Obama administration is thinking of escalating the CIA program that vets and trains "moderate" Syrian rebels, as part of its strategy in Syria against the Islamic State; the program currently turns out 400 fighters a month. Attorney General Eric Holder said the US is sending 70 or more prosecutors and law enforcement officials to the Balkans, North Africa, and the Middle East "to help track down jihadist fighters returning from Syria."
CENTCOM said the US and its coalition partners have conducted 20 strikes in Syria since Nov. 12, including one strike west of Aleppo against al Qaeda's "Khorasan" network; 19 of the strikes targeted the Islamic State in three provinces. US and coalition forces have also targeted the Islamic State in Iraq since Nov. 12, carrying out 16 airstrikes.
Joint Chiefs chair Gen. Dempsey said the US is considering sending a small number of US combat troops to fight alongside Iraqi forces against the Islamic State, and that about 80,000 effective Iraqi troops will be needed. Dempsey also said some 15,000 Syrian rebels will be needed to pressure Islamic State forces in northern and eastern Syria. Defense Secretary Hagel claimed that the coalition air campaign has stalled or reversed some of the terror group's gains in Iraq, and reiterated that US troops will not be involved in a ground combat mission there. Rep. McKeon, head of the House Armed Services Committee, questioned how the US' declared mission to degrade and destroy the terror group could be accomplished without the use of ground troops. Hagel also said the US will continue to seek to release Guantanamo Bay inmates.