Video: Focus shifts to American hostage held by ISIS

The brutal murder of Kenji Goto by his ISIS hostage-takers shifts the focus to an unnamed American woman currently held by the terrorists in the Syrian-Iraq desert, CBS News reports, but it’s hardly the only focus. NBC’s Savannah Guthrie started off her exclusive interview with Barack Obama on the topic, but the President was understandably ambiguous on the plight of the hostage and what the US was doing on her behalf. The hint that ISIS was willing to conduct prisoner swaps doesn’t seem to have panned out though, even if the US was inclined to negotiate on that basis — as they did with the Taliban:

There were hopes his life would be spared after ISIS offered to swap him for a prisoner being held in Jordan. That also raised the possibility of a prisoner exchange in return for that last remaining American hostage. Instead though, the extremists killed Goto, yet another non-combatant, reports CBS News correspondent Holly Williams. …

ISIS had offered to release the Japanese journalist in return for Sajida Al-Rishawi, a failed female suicide bomber on death row in Jordan. The Jordanian Government agreed to free Al-Rishawi, but only in exchange for one of its own citizens, a pilot downed in ISIS territory in December.

In the end, though, there was no prisoner swap, just one more brutal execution.

Obama didn’t give much away, other than to say that the US would continue to look for openings for a rescue:

SG: First question, can you tell us anything to the status of the female American prisoner being held by ISIS? And what’s being done to help her.

BO: Well, what we can say is and this has been true of all the hostages, that we are deploying all the assets that we can, working with all the coalition allies that we can to identify her location. And we are in very close contact with the family and trying to keep them updated. But obviously this is something that is heart breaking for families and our obligation is to make sure that we can do everything we can to try to make sure that any American citizen is rescued from this situation.

Holly Williams provided another refutation of Obama’s declarations of success against ISIS by reporting on the big offensive against Kirkuk on Friday. The Kurds repelled the invasion, but the boldness of ISIS in attacking a fortified city like Kirkuk — which is a critical city for oil resources and common defense for the Kurds — paints a much different picture of the impact felt by ISIS from the coalition’s attacks. Williams also notes that, contrary to Obama’s assertions in the NBC interview, ISIS is still expanding its footprint in Syria even after losing Kobane:

U.S. officials are highlighting successes against the terror group, like the Syrian city of Kobani, where the militants were forced to retreat last week. It took more than 700 American-led airstrikes and four months of street fighting by Kurdish forces to drive the extremists out.

Even as ISIS retreats from Kobani, it’s gained territory in the rest of Syria during the air campaign.

ISIS forces managed to seize an oil facility before getting pushed back in Kirkuk. Iraq’s Foreign Minister today warned that this is “World War III,” and that all Western capitals are under threat from ISIS:

So far, this White House hasn’t gotten that message.