FORT LEE, Va., Sept. 28 (UPI) -- President Barack Obama told members of the military at a CNN town hall Wednesday the nature of their missions has changed over his eight years in office and warned against oversimplifying the nation's battle against terrorism.
The president said the situation has changed since he first came to office, but he has not changed his view of how he uses military force.
"It is the nature of the role that has changed," Obama said. "Not how I assess it. ... We can help in these countries ... but we're not going to have the capacity to police these countries."
He said "Afghanistan was crumbling" when he first became president and he needed to send in more troops because "it was necessary to us to stop the bleeding."
But Iraq now has different requirements. Obama said the United States is there to provide air support and logistical assistance to defeat the Islamic State. "Our job [in Iraq] is not to provide the ground forces to roll back territory; that is the job of the Iraqis."
Syria is a larger, more complicated problem and the president said he and his entire foreign policy staff continue to wrestle with decisions.
"There hasn't been a week that's gone by, where I haven't re-examined some of the underlying premises around how we're dealing with the situation," he said, "and explore additional options we haven't thought of."
But the president again asserted his overall view.
"There are going to be some bad things that happen around the world and we have to be judicious in thinking about 'is this a situation where inserting large numbers of U.S. troops will get us a better outcome?' knowing the incredible sacrifices that will be involved."
He expressed his reluctance and some pessimism on the war in Syria.
"There is not a scenario in which, absent us deploying large numbers of troops, we can stop a civil war in which both sides are deeply dug in."
He also called Congress' override of his veto of the bill allowing 9/11 survivors and their families to sue the Saudi Arabian government a "political vote" weeks before the election, that could open up members of the military to being sued by foreign governments.
As he fielded questions from members of the military and their families at Fort Lee, Va., he also told the audience that while the nation's military, intelligence and law enforcement have significantly reduced the possibility of a 9/11-type attack happening again, lone wolf attacks are far more difficult to stop.
However, the president said "Dismantling [the Islamic State] will reduce the appeal of ... the poison they're feeding."
He also touched on other issues, calling the quality of care at many Veterans Affairs facilities "inexcusable. He said the controversy over whether he should be using the term "radical Islamic terrorism" is " manufactured," and that it creates diplomatic problems for the United States in dealing with Islamic allies and can undermine military moral for Islamic service members.
Obama said we shouldn't make issues like athletes protesting too simple.
"Sometimes out of these controversies, we start getting into a conversation and I want everybody to listen to each other.
"I want Mr. Kaepernick and others on their knee, I want them to listen to the pain that may cause," he said. "But I also want people to think about the pain he may be expressing about somebody who's lost a loved one they think was unfairly shot."
The president didn't argue with statistics about the effectiveness of women in combat, but said it was a situation that is still being closely examined. "There are a lot of jobs that are considered combat that don't necessarily involve you going door to door in Fallujah."
Obama spoke at length after a woman asked him about the high suicide rate of U.S. troops, telling her it was time mental health issues be destigmatized.
"There is nothing weak about asking for help," he said. "If you break your leg, you are going to go to a doctor to get that leg healed. If, as a consequence of the extraordinary stress and pain you are witnessing in a battlefield, something inside feels like it's wounded, it's just like a physical injury and you have to go and get help and there's nothing weak about that. That's strong and that is what will allow you to continue with your service."