W.H. official: "Absolutely, we're at war with ISIS"

An Obama administration official involved in the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS, or ISIL) said Sunday that the U.S. "absolutely" is at war with the terror group, but that the rest of the international community must also be involved.

"Absolutely, we're at war with ISIS, and it's a war that we're not going to relent until we destroy this barbaric terrorist organization," said Brett McGurk, the special presidential envoy to the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL, on CBS' "Face the Nation" Sunday.

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In response to criticism - some of which has come from Democrats - that the U.S. strategy to fight the group isn't working fast enough, he said, "We're not going to be satisfied until we have destroyed this organization. Make no mistake."

McGurk pointed to the fact that the U.S. conducted operations in Syria and Iraq with Kurdish and Arab forces to cut off ISIS' supply route between the cities of Raqqa and Mosul. He also said that the 50 U.S. Special Forces President Obama is sending to the region will help organize forces on the ground, although he would not say when they will arrive.

He said the conditions are now in place to push down on Raqqa, ISIS' capital, which would not have been possible six months ago. In the last two weeks, McGurk said, the forces combating ISIS have taken back about 1,100 square kilometers and killed about 300 ISIS fighters.

"We're going to pressure them and strangle them in the core. And that means all around Iraq and Syria. And we're doing that by cutting offer their final 98-kilometer stretch of border they have with Turkey. We're doing that by cutting off their access points between Raqqa and Mosul. We're doing it by protecting the northern flank above the Tigris River up near Baiji, and working with Iraqi security forces to retake Ramadi," McGurk said. "We're also going to work to strangle their international networks."

He said, "We have to work as a global community" and that it was particularly important for countries in the coalition to share information, since 34 countries have now disrupted plots by foreigners who have gone to fight with ISIS.

Addressing Russia's role in the fight, McGurk said, "We welcome Russia's efforts against ISIL. And that is something that we want them to very much focus on."

The U.S. has insisted that Syrian President Bashar Assad leave power, while the Russians have portrayed him as the person best poised to fight ISIS. Some of their airstrikes have been targeted at the Syrians opposing Assad rather than ISIS fighters and infrastructure.

For the first time since the start of the Syrian civil war four years ago, the U.S. held talks with all the parties involved in the conflict, including the Russians, Saudis and Iranians.

"They have agreed on a road map, an 18-month road map for a political transition, and also to put in place a cease-fire," McGurk said. "We have been working with the Russians on this very closely. What we want to do is have a cease-fire against the moderate opposition and the regime so we can focus on the real threat of ISIL. However, that is not going to happen, we can't get to a cease-fire unless we have a credible political transition process that will lead to Assad stepping aside for a new and inclusive government."

  • Rebecca Kaplan

    Rebecca Kaplan is a political reporter for CBSNews.com.