President Barack Obama said it would be a mistake to deploy ground forces to defeat Islamic State militants, resisting calls at home and abroad for a more forceful U.S. strategy in the wake of Friday’s terrorist attacks in Paris.
Capping the two-day G-20 summit in this Mediterranean resort, the U.S. leader held a news conference at which he called the Islamic State terrorist group "the face of evil" and promised intensified efforts but not a new strategy.
Obama said the Paris attacks were a "terrible and sickening setback" in the fight against IS, but he ruled out deploying large numbers of U.S. ground troops.
"We have the finest military in the world and we have the finest military minds in the world," he said. "I’ve been meeting with them intensively for years now, discussing these various options and it is not just my view but the view of my closest military and civilian advisers that that would be a mistake."
Ending wars and avoiding new ones has been a cornerstone of Obama’s presidency.
He indicated he wanted to avoid a repeat of the U.S.-led war in Iraq, "not because our military could not march into Mosul or Raqqa or Ramadi and temporarily clear out ISIL but because we would see a repetition of what we have seen before."
The U.S. leader said any new strategy needs to be sustainable.
“Let’s assume that we were to send 50,000 troops into Syria. What happens when there’s a terrorist attack generated from Yemen?” asked Obama. "Do we then send more troops into there? Or Libya, perhaps? Or if there’s a terrorist network that’s operating anywhere else – in North Africa, or in Southeast Asia?”
Events in Paris pushed the focus of leaders away from the formal agenda of trade and economics. Leaders’ attention was mainly on talking strategy to beat the Islamic State group and end the war in Syria.
In a final statement, the G-20 leaders vowed to increase intelligence sharing, tighten their national borders and attempt to cut off terrorist funding in the aftermath of the attacks in Paris.
Talks on Syria
U.S. and Russian leaders appeared to put aside many of their differences and made headway on plans for a cease-fire and an eventual transfer of power in Syria. Obama wants Syrian President Bashar al-Assad removed from power while Russian President Vladimir Putin continues to support Assad.
Obama and Putin met twice on the sidelines of the summit, building on progress the two sides made at talks on Syria in Vienna over the weekend.
Obama also met with leaders of Saudi Arabia, Turkey and western European nations. All are key players in international efforts to end the Syrian conflict, which has become a source of terrorist activity and has triggered a massive exodus of refugees into Europe.
But talk is not enough for France, which has carried out at least 20 airstrikes on the Islamic State group’s main stronghold in Raqqa, Syria, since Friday night's attacks in Paris killed 129 people.
"One cannot be attacked harshly, and you know the drama that is happening in Paris, without being present and active," said French foreign minister Laurent Fabius, attending the summit in place of President Francois Hollande.
Ken Bredemeier contributed to this report from Washington.