A week after U.S.-led airstrikes in Syria began, lawmakers continued to question President Barack Obama's strategy for defeating the militant group ISIS, which he admitted in a televised interview Sunday was more powerful than the U.S. initially believed.
Echoing sentiments also expressed by James Clapper, the head of U.S. intelligence services, Obama said the government "underestimated what had been taking place in Syria" during its civil war, allowing Syria to become "ground zero for jihadists around the world."
Speaking in a taped interview with CBS' "60 Minutes," Obama said the terrorists were remnants of al Qaeda in Iraq, which after being diminished by U.S. forces "went back underground."
"Over the past couple of years, during the chaos of the Syrian civil war, where essentially you have huge swaths of the country that are completely ungoverned, they were able to reconstitute themselves and take advantage of that chaos," Obama said, adding later the U.S. also overrated Iraq's security forces, which were quickly overrun by ISIS when it took over the northern city of Mosul this summer.
The President stressed that the issue in Iraq is not simply a military problem; it's a political one.
"This is America leading the international community to assist a country with whom we have a security partnership with, to make sure that they are able to take care of their business," he told "60 Minutes."
The President added: "If we do our job right and the Iraqis fight, then over time our role can slow down and taper off."
See the latest on this developing story on CNN.com
It was a speech that Barack Obama - a war-stopping, Nobel Peace Prize-winning President - never wanted to give.
A year after he pulled back from threatened military attacks on Syria over chemical weapons, Obama told America he now would launch airstrikes against ISIS targets in the country wracked by civil war.
The nationally televised address on Wednesday night, which lasted less than 15 minutes, promised far-reaching impact that could embroil the nation in another Middle East conflict.
"This was a very difficult speech for him," CNN chief political analyst Gloria Borger said of a President who campaigned on ending wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. "He's inserted us into the middle of a Syrian civil war."
The plan to "dismantle and ultimately destroy" the Sunni jihadists who have taunted America by beheading two captive U.S. journalists calls for what CNN chief national security correspondent Jim Sciutto described as a "tremendous turnaround" in Obama's previous policies in the region.
After previously rejecting calls from top advisers to arm and train some of the Syrian rebels fighting President Bashar al-Assad and ISIS, Obama now seeks specific congressional approval to do so.
He also threatened airstrikes on ISIS targets in a major expansion of a campaign in Iraq previously limited to protecting U.S. advisers working with Iraqi forces and preventing the slaughter of minority groups by the extremists also known as ISIL and the Islamic State.
"I have made it clear that we will hunt down terrorists who threaten our country, wherever they are," Obama said. "That means I will not hesitate to take action against ISIL in Syria, as well as Iraq. This is a core principle of my presidency: if you threaten America, you will find no safe haven."
In addition, 475 more U.S. military advisers are headed to Iraq, raising the total of American forces there to 1,700 for a mission originally described as limited.
See more on this developing story on CNN.com
How big of a threat is ISIS really?
The White House wants to find out and is deploying as many as 300 military advisers to Iraq to assess the might of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.
The jihad group's rash battlefield successes make them look extremely fierce.
They have surged over from northern Syria to blitz major cities in Iraq's Sunni region, taking Tal Afar and Mosul then moving quickly south. Hundreds of thousands of civilians fled from their path, creating a new refugee crisis.
They have advanced on Baquba, just north of Baghdad and are threatening to attack the capital.
The Obama administration has said there will be no more American boots on the ground after the drawdown of all American troops - tens of thousands of them.
It's up to the advisors to help Iraqi security forces vanquish ISIS on their own.
Washington has said little about what they'll actually be doing - and expert opinions on that and on whether they should be in Iraq at all are split.
Who are they?
They are high-ranking officers. They are Navy SEALs and Army Rangers, said retired Marine Sgt. Adam Banotai.
Banotai, who scrapped through the brutal battle for Fallujah during the Iraq war, thinks the term 'adviser' is misplaced.
"It is political semantics," he said. "We are calling them adviser now...instead of combat troops or boots on the ground." said retired Sgt. Adam Banotai.
"They are the most elite fighters we have," he added. "So, if they aren't going to be combat troops - I'm not quite sure who the president is going to refer to as combat troops."
MORE on CNN.com
President Barack Obama spent just over four hours in Afghanistan Sunday on an unannounced trip to visit with U.S. forces during the Memorial Day weekend. He thanked the troops for their service as the United States hands over responsibility to Afghan forces.
"Al Qaeda is on its heels in this part of the world, and that's because of you," Obama said.
He quickly added, "Everyone knows Afghanistan is still a very dangerous place."
The United States has been fighting in Afghanistan for more than 12 years, which is the U.S.'s longest war. "Last year marked a major milestone," the President said, as Afghan forces took increased responsibility for securing the country.
"For many of you, this will be your last tour in Afghanistan," Obama said to applause.
"And by the end of this year, the transition will be complete, and Afghans will take full responsibility for their security, and our combat mission will be over. America's war in Afghanistan will come to a responsible end."
MORE on CNN.com
President Obama arrived in Seoul, South Korea, Friday to news that North Korea may be counting down to a nuclear weapons test.
Such moves out of Pyongyang are no surprise and are typical for the North's behavior, Obama told reporters while in Tokyo, his previous stop on his Asia trip.
The President said he is prepared to deliver a firm response, if a test is conducted during his visit.
North Korea's heightened activity at its nuclear test site was already known. But now the final step needed for an underground detonation has been taken, a South Korean government official said Thursday.
The North has closed off the entrance to the tunnel at the Punggye-ri nuclear test site, the official said.
That gives Pyongyang 11 days to either detonate a nuclear device or cancel the test. It would be the North's fourth test of a nuclear weapon.
We're expecting a live news conference from the President within the hour. We'll bring it to you when it starts on "Early Start."
MORE on CNN.com
President Barack Obama is ready to talk even on Republicans' terms, he insisted Tuesday, so long as Congress acts first to end the government shutdown and raise the debt ceiling - even for a short period.
At a news conference, Obama indicated Republicans could essentially set the agenda for budget negotiations, but only if Congress agrees first to a short-term spending plan to fund the government and to raise the federal borrowing limit to avoid a possible first-ever U.S. default next week.
"I will talk about anything," the president said.
President Obama spent an emotional weekend in South Africa, where former South African President Nelson Mandela is still in critical but stable condition at a hospital in Pretoria.
Mandela is said to be still on life support, with his family by his bedside.
While he did not see Mandela himself, the president did meet with Mandela's family. He also visited Robben island where the anti-apartheid icon was held prisoner for many years.
The president is now on his way to Africa's east coast, to visit Tanzania.
Nima Elbaghir has the latest.
President Obama is in Senegal today for the first leg of his trip to Africa.
CNN’s Brianna Keilar is traveling with the president and joins "Early Start" live from the capital of Dakar with details on his trip.
President Obama heads overseas to Africa today. His trip will take him to Senegal, Tanzania, and South Africa, making it his second visit to sub-Saharan Africa since taking office.
CNN reporters around the globe are following the agenda.
The president will spend seven days on the continent as he plans to meet with the leaders of those countries to focus on diplomacy and bridge building. But he has no plans, for now, to see ailing former South African President Nelson Mandela.