Obama blames in­tel agen­cies for un­der­es­ti­mat­ing Is­lamic State

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY DAVE BOYER

As Pres­i­dent Obama pre­pares to leave of­fice with­out hav­ing de­stroyed the Is­lamic State, he’s sell­ing the no­tion that U.S. in­tel­li­gence agen­cies failed to warn him promptly about the rise of the ter­ror­ist group more than two years ago, an as­ser­tion rais­ing howls of in­credulity in some quar­ters.

The White House pushed that ver­sion of events Thurs­day, point­ing to an assess­ment by Di­rec­tor of Na­tional In­tel­li­gence James R. Clap­per in Septem­ber 2014 that U.S. in­tel­li­gence agen­cies “un­der­es­ti­mated” the Is­lamic State, also known by the acronyms ISIL and ISIS.

“Those are the facts,” said White House press sec­re­tary Josh Earnest.

Mr. Obama told CNN in an in­ter­view that aired late Wed­nes­day, “The abil­ity of ISIL to not just mass in­side of Syria, but then to ini­ti­ate ma­jor land

of­fen­sives that took Mo­sul [in Iraq], for ex­am­ple, that was not on my in­tel­li­gence radar screen.”

But some crit­ics are point­ing to claims that the ad­min­is­tra­tion ig­nored warn­ing signs from in­tel­li­gence sources and al­lies such as Kur­dish lead­ers about the Is­lamic State’s grow­ing strength af­ter 2011, when Mr. Obama with­drew all U.S. troops from Iraq.

Sherkoh Ab­bas, chair­man of the Kur­dis­tan Na­tional Assem­bly of Syria, said in 2014, “We ap­proached the State De­part­ment about ISIS be­fore ISIS was in the head­lines, and we were ig­nored.”

In Septem­ber 2014, Fox News re­ported that Mr. Obama had been told about the rise of the ter­ror­ist group in his clas­si­fied daily in­tel­li­gence brief­ings through­out the pre­vi­ous year.

In Fe­bru­ary 2014, Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, then di­rec­tor of the De­fense In­tel­li­gence Agency, briefed the Se­nate Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee on the emerg­ing threat of the Is­lamic State.

The group “prob­a­bly will at­tempt to take ter­ri­tory in Iraq and Syria to ex­hibit its strength in 2014, as demon­strated re­cently in Ra­madi and Fal­lu­jah, and the group’s abil­ity to con­cur­rently main­tain mul­ti­ple safe havens in Syria,” Gen. Flynn tes­ti­fied. “Since the de­par­ture of U.S. forces at the end of 2011, [Is­lamic State] has ex­ploited the per­mis­sive se­cu­rity en­vi­ron­ment to in­crease its op­er­a­tions and pres­ence in many lo­ca­tions and also has ex­panded into Syria and Le­banon to in­flame ten­sions through­out the re­gion.”

Pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald Trump has cho­sen Gen. Flynn to serve as his na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser.

Jay Seku­low, gen­eral coun­sel at the Amer­i­can Cen­ter of Law and Jus­tice and a fre­quent Obama critic, called the pres­i­dent’s lat­est as­ser­tions “un­be­liev­able.”

Gen. Flynn’s tes­ti­mony came about a month af­ter Mr. Obama re­ferred to the Is­lamic State in an in­ter­view as the ju­nior var­sity.

“The anal­ogy we use around here some­times, and I think is ac­cu­rate, is if a JV team puts on Lak­ers uni­forms, that doesn’t make them Kobe Bryant,” Mr. Obama had said. “I think there is a dis­tinc­tion be­tween the ca­pac­ity and reach of a bin Laden and a net­work that is ac­tively plan­ning ma­jor ter­ror­ist plots against the home­land, ver­sus jihadis who are en­gaged in var­i­ous lo­cal power strug­gles and dis­putes, of­ten sec­tar­ian.”

Mr. Earnest said Mr. Obama’s com­ments to CNN this week about be­ing left in the dark by U.S. in­tel­li­gence agen­cies were “con­sis­tent” with Mr. Clap­per’s assess­ment from more than two years ago.

But Mr. Clap­per also said at the time that U.S. in­tel­li­gence agen­cies had suc­ceeded in pro­vid­ing “an­tic­i­pa­tory in­tel­li­gence” about the Is­lamic State’s early move­ment in Syria and Iraq, and that his an­a­lysts had told the ad­min­is­tra­tion about the group’s “prow­ess and ca­pa­bil­ity.”

“What we didn’t do was pre­dict the will to fight,” Mr. Clap­per said in 2014. “We un­der­es­ti­mated ISIL and over­es­ti­mated the fight­ing ca­pa­bil­ity of the Iraqi army. I didn’t see the col­lapse of the Iraqi se­cu­rity force in the north com­ing.”

The pres­i­dent gave his fi­nal ma­jor speech on his ad­min­is­tra­tion’s coun­tert­er­ror­ism ef­forts this week to some of the U.S. spe­cial op­er­a­tions troops at a mil­i­tary base in Florida who have been tak­ing the fight to the Is­lamic State. In that speech, Mr. Obama also ad­dressed crit­i­cism that he con­trib­uted to Is­lamic State’s rise by with­draw­ing all U.S. troops from Iraq in 2011.

Mr. Obama re­peated his con­tention that the Iraqi govern­ment would not guar­an­tee im­mu­nity for U.S. troops, but added a twist: The con­tin­ued pres­ence of U.S. troops in Iraq would not have pre­vented Is­lamic State’s rise re­gard­less.

“Main­tain­ing Amer­i­can troops in Iraq at the time could not have re­versed the forces that con­trib­uted to ISIL’s rise — a govern­ment in Bagh­dad that pur­sued a sec­tar­ian agenda, a bru­tal dic­ta­tor in Syria who lost con­trol of large parts of the coun­try, so­cial me­dia that reached a global pool of re­cruits and a hol­low­ing out of Iraq’s se­cu­rity forces, which were ul­ti­mately over­run in Mo­sul in 2014,” Mr. Obama said. “In fact, Amer­i­can troops, had they stayed there, would have lacked le­gal pro­tec­tions and faced a choice be­tween re­main­ing on bases or be­ing drawn back into a sec­tar­ian con­flict against the will of Iraq’s elected govern­ment or Iraq’s lo­cal pop­u­la­tions.”

Re­tired Gen. David Pe­traeus, Mr. Obama’s for­mer CIA di­rec­tor and a pos­si­ble can­di­date for sec­re­tary of state in the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion, isn’t sure that keep­ing a sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of U.S. troops in Iraq would have pre­vented the rise of the Is­lamic State.

“I don’t know whether 10,000 troops would have given us the lever­age. I sus­pect it might not have. But I would have liked to have tested the propo­si­tion,” Gen. Pe­traeus told CNN this week.

Kris­ten Sil­ver­berg, a for­mer Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion am­bas­sador to the Euro­pean Union, said at a fo­rum on Mr. Obama’s for­eign pol­icy last week that the White House is “sug­gest­ing that he’s cleanly wrapped up the chal­lenge in Iraq, which is, of course, not true.”

“We have thou­sands of troops on the ground to­day,” she said. “In­stead of hav­ing pre­vented ISIS from tak­ing Mo­sul in the first place, we’re now try­ing the very vi­o­lent and bloody and dif­fi­cult task of work­ing with the Iraqis to try to take it back.”

Ms. Sil­ver­berg, speak­ing in New York City at the fo­rum hosted by In­tel­li­gence Squared U.S., said Mr. Obama has made three fun­da­men­tal fail­ures in Iraq.

“There was the orig­i­nal fail­ure — they failed to get the Iraqi govern­ment to agree to a sta­tus of forces agree­ment that would have al­lowed us to keep troops in with ap­pro­pri­ate le­gal pro­tec­tions,” she said. “Af­ter he failed to do it, he failed to un­der­stand that he needed to keep some troop lev­els there any­way. And then he failed to un­der­stand his mis­take on with­draw­ing troops pre­ma­turely un­til 2014, af­ter ISIS had al­ready run Mo­sul. So it’s not that he has kept us out of a quag­mire, it’s that he’s ig­nored the ob­vi­ous facts on the ground that would [have] al­lowed us to pre­vent some of these events from tak­ing place in the first place.”

Mr. Obama also de­clared in his speech at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida, that dur­ing his eight years in charge, “no for­eign ter­ror­ist or­ga­ni­za­tion has suc­cess­fully planned and ex­e­cuted an at­tack on our home­land.”

That as­ser­tion was chal­lenged by David Inserra, a spe­cial­ist in home­land se­cu­rity pol­icy at the con­ser­va­tive Her­itage Foun­da­tion.

Mr. Inserra said Mr. Obama’s state­ment “ob­scures the re­al­ity that the U.S. has faced 66 Is­lamist ter­ror­ist plots against the U.S. home­land dur­ing Obama’s time in of­fice, 13 of which were suc­cess­ful.”

“Obama’s state­ment is tech­ni­cally ac­cu­rate since none of these at­tacks were planned and directed from abroad,” he said in a blog post. “In­stead, the vast ma­jor­ity of the ter­ror plots and all of the suc­cess­ful at­tacks since 9/11 have in­volved home­grown ter­ror­ists — that is, ter­ror­ists who rad­i­cal­ized and plot­ted here in the U.S. While pre­vent­ing such for­eign or­ches­trated plots is vi­tal, it is no longer enough. The threat has mor­phed and the U.S. must now do more to counter home­grown and lone-wolf Is­lamist ter­ror­ists.”

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

BUCK PASSED: Pres­i­dent Obama said U.S. in­tel­li­gence agen­cies didn’t warn him prop­erly about the Is­lamic State, a con­tention his crit­ics de­cry.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Pres­i­dent Obama took the U.S. in­tel­li­gence com­mu­nity to task for un­der­es­ti­mat­ing the Is­lamic State, point­ing to a 2014 re­port by Di­rec­tor of Na­tional In­tel­li­gence James R. Clap­per that said an­a­lysts had mis­cal­cu­lated.

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