(CNSNews.com) - "Ending the war in Iraq" ranks as one of President Obama's most significant foreign policy achievements, White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters at the White House on Tuesday -- the same day that al-Qaida-linked fighters seized Mosul, one of Iraq's largest cities.
A reporter asked Earnest to name "two or three accomplishments" that Hillary Clinton and President Obama could claim from Obama's first term: "Let's start with what I think the president would describe as one of his most important national security priorities, which is ending the war in Iraq and winding down in a responsible fashion the war in Afghanistan," Earnest said.
Earlier, Earnest condemned "in the strongest possible terms" the attack on Mosul. He noted that al-Qaida-linked forces "gained strength from the situation in Syria." And he urged "Iraqis from all communities," both Sunni, Shia and Kurd, to "work together to confront this common enemy and isolate these militant groups from the broader population."
Earnest described the situation in Iraq as "extremely serious," and he said the United States "will continue to stand with the Iraqi people and provide all necessary and appropriate assistance," especially military assistance, to the Iraqi government.
Some of the U.S.-provided military equipment is now in the hands of the militants: "ISIL (Islamic militant) supporters posted photos on social media showing fighters next to Humvees and other U.S.-made military vehicles captured from Iraqi forces," the Associated Press reported on Tuesday. "The video and photos appeared authentic," AP said.
Asked if Iraq has devolved into civil war, Earnest said it's "not a pronouncement that I would make from this podium. But as I mentioned at the beginning, this is a situation that is very serious and one that we're concerned about. It is clear that there are some very serious security challenges in Iraq that have deteriorated in an important way recently."
Earnest also admitted that the civil war in Syria is "destabilizing other countries."
According to State Department spokesman Jen Psaki on Tuesday, al-Qaida affiliates in Iraq are "gaining strength from the situation in Syria. It's transferring recruits, sophisticated munitions and resources to the fight in Iraq."
Psaki noted that Iraqi security forces face a "severe challenge" from the militants: "But we have seen in recent days that they're actively engaged in this ongoing effort. We continue to encourage them to stay at it."
Al-Qaeda-Inspired Militants Overrun Most of Iraq's Second-Largest City