Here's why Obama said just a day before the Paris attacks that ISIS was 'contained'

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Mitt Romney: Obama Has 'Pulled His Punches' with ISIS


Before attackers apparently aligned with the terrorist group ISIS hit Paris with simultaneous bombing and shooting attacks, the organization had suffered a number of setbacks throughout the week.

US President Barack Obama has been criticized for saying that ISIS (also known as the Islamic State and ISIL) had been "contained" one day before terrorists launched a massive, coordinated attack on a western country.

SEE ALSO: French prime minister warns of more attacks

"We have contained them," Obama told ABC News in an interview that aired Thursday. "I don't think they're gaining strength."

At the time, Obama noted a trend — that ISIS is being hit hard in the Middle East, where its core base of support lies.

Earlier this week, the US announced an airstrike had likely killed "Jihadi John," a British citizen who had fled Europe to join ISIS and became a prominent fixture in the group's propaganda videos as he beheaded hostages and delivered chilling messages in English.

The US is "reasonably certain" the airstrike killed the brutal executioner in Raqqa, Syria, which ISIS considers the de-facto "capital" of its territory.

For the US "to carry out such precise attack ... in the heartland of ISIS is going to make them very, very nervous," Will McCants, an expert on jihadism and author of the recent book, "The ISIS Apocalypse," told Business Insider on Friday.

See photos of how the world has united to support Paris:

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Monuments red, white, blue, in solidarity for Paris
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Here's why Obama said just a day before the Paris attacks that ISIS was 'contained'
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - NOVEMBER 14: Pedestrians walk in front of the Sydney Opera House as its sails are illuminated in the colours of the French flag on November 14, 2015 in Sydney, Australia. At least 120 people have been killed and over 200 are injured in Paris following a series of terrorist acts in the French capital on Friday. (Photo by Daniel Munoz/Getty Images)
Christ the Redeemer statue is lit with the colors of France's flag, in solidarity with France after attacks in Paris, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Saturday, Nov. 14, 2015. Multiple attacks across Paris on Friday night left scores dead and hundreds injured. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)
LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 14: The London Eye is lit up in the colours of the French flag on November 14, 2015 in London, England. Various landmarks around the globe have been lit in their colours in the wake of the Paris attacks. (Photo by Chris Ratcliffe/Getty Images)
The Oriental Pearl TV Tower (C), in the Lujiazui Financial District in Pudong, is lit in red, white and blue, resembling the colours of the French flag, in Shanghai on November 14, 2015, as the Chinese expressed their solidarity with France following a spate of coordinated attacks that left 128 dead and 180 injured in Paris late on November 13. The Oriental Pearl tower was bathed in the French flag colours for one hour. AFP PHOTO / JOHANNES EISELE (Photo credit should read JOHANNES EISELE/AFP/Getty Images)
Rome's city hall (Campidoglio) is lighted with France's colors, blue, white and red, on January 8, 2015 in Rome in remembrance of the victims of an attack against Charlie Hebdo satirical weekly which killed 12 people in Paris yesterday. AFP PHOTO / ALBERTO PIZZOLI (Photo credit should read ALBERTO PIZZOLI/AFP/Getty Images)
The One World Trade Center spire is lit blue, white and red after New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced the lighting in honor of dozens killed in the Paris attacks Friday, Nov. 13, 2015, in New York. French officials say several dozen people have been killed in shootings and explosions at a theater, restaurant and elsewhere in Paris. (AP Photo/Kevin Hagen)
Mumbaiâs Chhatrapati Shivaji train station building is illuminated by the colors of the French national flag in solidarity with France following Friday's Paris terror attacks, Mumbai, India, Sunday, Nov. 15, 2015. This Mumbai landmark was one of the major targets of the 2008 terror attacks that killed 166 people. (AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool)
The Washington Square Park arch is lit with the French national colors in solidarity with the citizens of France on November 14, 2015 in New York, a day after the Paris terrorist attacks. Islamic State jihadists claimed a series of coordinated attacks by gunmen and suicide bombers in Paris on November 13 that killed at least 129 people in scenes of carnage at a concert hall, restaurants and the national stadium. AFP PHOTO/JEWEL SAMAD (Photo credit should read JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)
Two Ultra-Orthodox Jews look at Jerusalem's Old City walls illuminated by the colors of the French national flag in solidarity with France after attacks in Paris, in Jerusalem, Sunday, Nov. 15, 2015. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)
A paddle wheel riverboat passes under a bridge illuminated with the colors of the French flag to show solidarity for the deadly Paris attacks Saturday, Nov. 14, 2015, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
London's National Gallery and the fountains in Trafalgar Square are illuminated in blue, white and red lights, resembling the colours of the French national flag, in London on November 14, 2015, as Britons express their solidarity with France following a spate of coordinated attacks that left 129 dead in Paris on November 13. Islamic State jihadists claimed responsibility for a series of coordinated attacks by suicide bombers and gunmen in Paris that killed at least 128 people at a concert hall, restaurants and the national sports stadium. At least eight militants, all wearing suicide vests, brought unprecedented violence to the streets of the French capital in the worst attacks in Europe since the 2004 Madrid train bombings. The assault also left at least 250 wounded, 100 of them seriously. AFP PHOTO / JUSTIN TALLIS (Photo credit should read JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP/Getty Images)
The Planalto Presidential Palace is seen illuminated with the colors of the flag of France in tribute to the victims of Paris attacks, in Brasilia, Brazil, Sunday, Nov. 15, 2015. Multiple terrorist attacks across Paris on Friday night have left more than one hundred dead and many more injured. (AP Photo/Eraldo Peres)
The facade of the Cibeles Palace, Madrid's town hall, is illuminated red, white and blue to represent the French national standard in Madrid on November 14, 2015 in support for victims and families following a series of terror attacks in the French city of Paris and its surroundings that has left at least 120 people dead and some 200 wounded. A spate of co-ordinated attacks left 128 dead and 200 injured in Paris last night, a day after twin bombings in Beirut left 44 dead, and nearly two weeks after IS claimed it downed a Russian jet leaving Egypt, killing 224 on board. in Madrid on November 14, 2015.AFP PHOTO / GERARD JULIEN (Photo credit should read GERARD JULIEN/AFP/Getty Images)
Bratislava Castle is lit in red, white and blue, the colors of the French flag, in Bratislava on November 14, 2015, as Slovakians express their solidarity with France following the coordinated terrorist attacks that left at least 128 dead and 180 injured in Paris late on November 13. AFP PHOTO / VLADIMIR SIMICEK (Photo credit should read VLADIMIR SIMICEK/AFP/Getty Images)
A man shelters from the rain beneath a Union flag-themed umbrella as he photographs London's iconic Tower Bridge, illuminated in blue, white and red lights, resembling the colours of the French national flag, in London on November 14, 2015, as Britons express their solidarity with France following a spate of coordinated attacks that left 128 dead in Paris on November 13. Islamic State jihadists claimed responsibility for a series of coordinated attacks by suicide bombers and gunmen in Paris that killed at least 128 people at a concert hall, restaurants and the national sports stadium. At least eight militants, all wearing suicide vests, brought unprecedented violence to the streets of the French capital in the worst attacks in Europe since the 2004 Madrid train bombings. The assault also left at least 250 wounded, 100 of them seriously. AFP PHOTO / JUSTIN TALLIS (Photo credit should read JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 11: The National Gallery is lit in the blue, white and red colours of the national flag of France in tribute to the victims of the terrorist attacks in Paris on January 11, 2015 in London, England. The terrorist atrocities started on Wednesday with the attack on the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, killing 12, and ended on Friday with sieges at a printing company in Dammartin en Goele and a Kosher supermarket in Paris with four hostages and three suspects being killed. A fourth suspect, Hayat Boumeddiene, 26, escaped and is wanted in connection with the murder of a policewoman. (Photo by Rob Stothard/Getty Images)
BERLIN, GERMANY - NOVEMBER 14: The Brandenburg Gate is illuminated in the French national colors in tribute for the victims of the 13 November Paris attacks in Berlin, Germany, on November 14, 2015. At least 128 people have been killed and 250 others injured in a series of attacks in Paris on 13 November. (Photo by Erbil Basay/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Egyptian tour guides hold a candlelight vigil at the base of the Great Pyramid of Giza in solidarity with victims of attacks in Paris and Beirut and the Russian plane crash in northern Sinai, on the outskirts of Cairo, Egypt, Sunday, Nov. 15, 2015. The Islamic State group have claimed responsibility for Friday night's attacks in Paris, Thursdays's twin powerful suicide bombings that tore through a crowded Shiite neighborhood of Beirut, and bringing down a Russian jetliner over Egypt's Sinai region earlier this month. (AP Photo/Thomas Hartwell)
People stand near the Washington Square Arch, Saturday, Nov. 14, 2015, at Washington Square Park in New York. The Arch was lit in remembrance of the deadly attacks in Paris on Friday. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)
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"What we know from Al Qaeda documents is that these kind of drone strikes on prominent personalities in areas where they thought they were secure made the senior leaders of Al Qaeda extremely nervous and much more cautious about moving around," McCants added. "And you would anticipate the same thing would happen with Islamic State leaders."

Also this week, ground forces backed by US airstrikes cut off one of ISIS' most important supply routes in Iraq and retook the town of Sinjar in northern Iraq, where ISIS terrorists kidnapped and enslaved thousands of women from the Yazidi minority to use as sex slaves for militants.

The news of the Sinjar success in particular has been "completely drowned out" by the Paris attacks, Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, a counterterrorism analyst and senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told Business Insider.

SEE ALSO: After Paris attacks, fugitive slipped through police dragnet

"It's going to be significant in Iraq and Syria. ... Losing Sinjar basically cuts the 'caliphate' in two," Ross said, referring to ISIS's territory in the Middle East, which it brands as an Islamic utopia.

"Even though they're carrying out a spectacular attack in the West, that doesn't change the fact that they lost this major territorial holding."

The White House has been using a similar argument to defend Obama's comments about ISIS being "contained."

See haunting images of the Eiffel Tower gone dark in mourning:

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Eiffel Tower stands dark following Paris attacks
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Here's why Obama said just a day before the Paris attacks that ISIS was 'contained'
PARIS, FRANCE - NOVEMBER 14: The Eiffel Tower turns off its lights in memory of the more than 120 victims the day after the terrorist attack on November 14, 2015 in Paris, France. (Photo by Marc Piasecki/Getty Images)
PARIS, FRANCE - NOVEMBER 14: Armed police stand guard overlooking the Eiffel Tower which was kept dark in honor of those who died in the terrorist attacks yesterday, November 14, 2015 in Paris, France. France declared a national state of emergency after at least 129 people were killed in coordinated terror attacks throughout the French capital. (Photo by Carolyn Cole/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
A picture taken on November 14, 2015 shows the Eiffel Tower with its lights turned off following the deadly attacks in Paris. Islamic State jihadists claimed a series of coordinated attacks by gunmen and suicide bombers in Paris that killed at least 129 people in scenes of carnage at a concert hall, restaurants and the national stadium. The Eiffel Tower was closed, the Champs-Elysees was lifeless and museums, markets and schools were shuttered today as Paris reeled after the bloodiest terror attack in French history. AFP PHOTO / ALAIN JOCARD (Photo credit should read ALAIN JOCARD/AFP/Getty Images)
PARIS, FRANCE - NOVEMBER 14: The Eiffel Tower is kept dark in honor of those who died in the terrorist attacks yesterday, November 14, 2015 in Paris, France. France declared a national state of emergency after at least 129 people were killed in coordinated terror attacks throughout the French capital. (Photo by Carolyn Cole/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
PARIS, FRANCE - NOVEMBER 15: The Eiffel Tower is seen after turned off its lights in respect for the victims of France terror attacks, on November 14, 2015. The Eiffel Tower has been closed indefinitely following the wave of deadly attacks in Paris. 129 people were killed and 352 others injured -- 99 of them in critical condition -- after the terror attacks in Paris on 13 November. (Photo by Dursun Aydemir/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
A picture taken on November 14, 2015 shows the Eiffel Tower with its lights turned off following the deadly attacks in Paris. Islamic State jihadists claimed a series of coordinated attacks by gunmen and suicide bombers in Paris that killed at least 129 people in scenes of carnage at a concert hall, restaurants and the national stadium. AFP PHOTO / ALAIN JOCARD (Photo credit should read ALAIN JOCARD/AFP/Getty Images)
PARIS, FRANCE - NOVEMBER 15: The Eiffel Tower is seen after turned off its lights in respect for the victims of France terror attacks, on November 14, 2015. The Eiffel Tower has been closed indefinitely following the wave of deadly attacks in Paris. 129 people were killed and 352 others injured -- 99 of them in critical condition -- after the terror attacks in Paris on 13 November. (Photo by Dursun Aydemir/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
PARIS, FRANCE - NOVEMBER 14: The Eiffel Tower goes dark following a series of terrorist attacks in the French capital on November 14, 2015 in Paris, France. At least 120 people were killed and over 200 injured, 80 seriously, after a coordinated series of attacks in Paris which ISIS claimed responsibility for. (Photo by Xavier Laine/Getty Images)
PARIS, FRANCE - NOVEMBER 14: The Eiffel Tower turns off its lights in memory of the more than 120 victims the day after the terrorist attack on November 14, 2015 in Paris, France. (Photo by Marc Piasecki/Getty Images)
PARIS, FRANCE - NOVEMBER 15: The Eiffel Tower is seen after turned off its lights in respect for the victims of France terror attacks, on November 14, 2015. The Eiffel Tower has been closed indefinitely following the wave of deadly attacks in Paris. 129 people were killed and 352 others injured -- 99 of them in critical condition -- after the terror attacks in Paris on 13 November. (Photo by Dursun Aydemir/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
PARIS, FRANCE - NOVEMBER 14: The Eiffel Tower turns off its lights in memory of the more than 120 victims the day after the terrorist attack on November 14, 2015 in Paris, France. (Photo by Marc Piasecki/Getty Images)
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"The president was referring very specifically to the question of ISIL's geographic expansion in Iraq and Syria," White House deputy national security advisor Ben Rhodes said on NBC's "Meet the Press" on Sunday.

"They had been on the march in both Iraq and Syria for some time. But starting a year ago, we were able to halt that expansion."

McCants predicted that ISIS would attempt to take territory elsewhere to make up for the Sinjar loss. A major theme of ISIS propaganda is that the group is "remaining and expanding," so losing territory is significant for them in that it not only shrinks the size of their caliphate, but it could also make supporters doubt the group's message.

SEE ALSO: Hundreds flee gathering in central Paris in apparent false alarm

"People have been drawn to ISIS not especially because of the charisma of its spokespeople but because they've been so successful in taking land," McCants said.

"The advance against ISIS by its enemies had been stalled for months, so we will see how ISIS responds. ... It often tries to retake territory elsewhere in order to offset its losses."

And it remains to be seen how ISIS will deal with the setbacks it's seen on the home-front.

"The bottom line is that with them losing ground, they're going to have to deal with that militarily in an on-the-ground basis," Gartenstein-Ross said. "This is not going to mask things in Iraq and Syria."

NOW WATCH: Stadium security prevented one of the bombers from entering with an explosive vest, WSJ reports

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SEE ALSO: Why France has become a prime target for terrorists

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