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WASHINGTON (AP) At the heart of President Barack Obama's quandary over the Islamic State militants is their haven in Syria.

The president may continue helping Iraqi forces try to reverse the group's land grabs in northern Iraq by providing more arms and American military advisers and by using U.S. warplanes to support Iraqi ground operations.

But what if the militants pull back and regroup in Syria, as Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Thursday predicted they would, followed by a renewed offensive?

Robert Ford, a former U.S. ambassador to Syria who quit in disillusionment over Obama's unwillingness to arm moderate Syrian rebels, says he doesn't see how the Islamic State group can be contained without addressing their base of operations.

But Obama is leery of getting drawn into Syria's bloody civil war.