Why Obama backed off on more ISIS strikes: His own team couldn't agree on a strategy

There were deep divisions inside the administration’s deliberations over Syria. One set of officials advocated for a campaign to decimate ISIS in both countries by striking ISIS targets across Syria. This camp pushed for hitting near Aleppo where they are advancing, and with at least some coordination with the moderate Syrian rebels. The group, which included officials from State Department, intelligence community and some parts of the military, came up with extensive targeting options for the president that included not only ISIS military assets, but their infrastructure, command and control, and their financial capabilities. Even the oil pipelines they use to export crude for cash were on the target list.

Another group of officials — led by White House and National Security staffers but also including some intelligence and military officials — favored a more cautious approach that spurned any cooperation with the Free Syrian Army and focused strikes inside Syria on targets near the Iraqi border. The objective: cut off ISIS supply lines to Iraq. That strategy would fall more squarely within the existing limited missions that Obama has already outlined for his war.

Inside the intelligence community, there is a dispute about whether the Free Syrian Army, which has been fighting ISIS in Syria all year with little international support, can be a reliable partner for any military mission inside Syria.

Senior U.S. intelligence officials say the official assessment from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence recommended against working with the Free Syrian Army. “The intelligence community assessment has no serious consideration to work with the Free Syrian Army to date,” a senior U.S. intelligence official said. “The folks sitting around the table today do not think we can work with them.”