Backed by U.S. air power, Kurdish forces are making gains in Iraq against the Islamic State terrorist group, but the same Islamic radicals are on the march in neighboring Syria.
That poses a major problem for the United States, which aims to keep terrorism in check a decade after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on New York and Washington, and Washington is nervously eyeing moves by the Islamic State, which has in recent months overrun vast swathes of territory in northern Iraq.
The militants' territorial gains have Washington worried that its ultimate nightmare could come true -- that the group could eventually carve out a haven in Iraq or Syria and use it as a staging ground for attacks against the United States, much like al- Qaida did in Afghanistan.
President Barack Obama's critics have blasted him for putting the Islamic State problem on the backburner until it blew up in his face.
Republican Strategist Ford O'Connell told Xinhua that while the White House largely ignored the problem over the last year, the president is now engaged in the issue.
He said the president is looking at the group "in a very serious way."
"Obviously he ignored this for a long time, but when you've got defense secretaries out there saying 'my gosh, this is far worse than we ever imagined,'" the issue became difficult to ignore, he said.
Still, the current administration is unlikely to engage much beyond limited airstrikes, as Obama is concerned about his legacy and wants to be known as the president who ended the war in Iraq, he added.