Most will recall that the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) offered specific warnings to Congress in late 2013 about al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) after it rebranded as Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), and its spread in western Iraq after the withdrawal of American troops. It was that warning, combined with ISIS victories in Fallujah and other Iraqi cities, that prompted Barack Obama’s infamous “jayvee team” comment about the terrorist group even as it began breaking out of its sanctuaries. What may be less known is that DIA had been briefing the White House on ISIS as early as 2012, and the Obama administration repeatedly ignored the warnings, the New York Times reported last night:
Since last spring the group, also known as ISIS or ISIL, has been expanding beyond its local struggle to international terrorism. In the last two weeks, it did that in a spectacular way, first claiming responsibility for downing a Russian planeload of 224 people, then sending squads of killers who ended the lives of 43 people in Beirut and 129 in Paris. As the world scrambles to respond, the questions pile up like the dead: Who are they? What do they want? Were signals missed that could have stopped the Islamic State before it became so deadly?
And there were, in fact, more than hints of the group’s plans and potential. A 2012 report by the United States Defense Intelligence Agency was direct: The growing chaos in Syria’s civil war was giving Islamic militants there and in Iraq the space to spread and flourish. The group, it said, could “declare an Islamic state through its union with other terrorist organizations in Iraq and Syria.”
“This particular report, this was one of those nobody wanted to see,” said Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn, who ran the defense agency at the time.
“It was disregarded by the White House,” he said. “It was disregarded by other elements in the intelligence community as a one-off report. Frankly, at the White House, it didn’t meet the narrative.”
No report or event can stand in hindsight as the single missed key to the now terrifyingly complex puzzle of the Islamic State.
Well, perhaps, but this 2012 DIA assessment looks like a pretty good candidate. Consider its forward-looking assessment of the conflict in Syria and its potential for the rise of a caliphate, as noted by Global Research in May, when the report was declassified. Other than predicting that the Assad regime would maintain control over Syrian territory, the rest of this looks prescient in almost every detail (emphases from Global Research):
(C)Al QAEDA – IRAQ (AQI):… B. AQI SUPPORTED THE SYRIAN OPPOSITION FROM THE BEGINNING, BOTH IDEOLOGICALLY AND THROUGH THE MEDIA…
4.D. THERE WAS A REGRESSION OF AQI IN THE WESTERN PROVINCES OF IRAQ DURING THE YEARS OF 2009 AND 2010; HOWEVER, AFTER THE RISE OF THE INSURGENCY IN SYRIA, THE RELIGIOUS AND TRIBAL POWERS IN THE REGIONS BEGAN TO SYMPATHIZE WITH THE SECTARIAN UPRISING. THIS (SYMPATHY) APPEARED IN FRIDAY PRAYER SERMONS, WHICH CALLED FOR VOLUNTEERS TO SUPPORT THE SUNNI’S [sic] IN SYRIA.
(C)THE FUTURE ASSUMPTIONS OF THE CRISIS:
A. THE REGIME WILL SURVIVE AND HAVE CONTROL OVER SYRIAN TERRITORY.
B. DEVELOPMENT OF THE CURRENT EVENTS INTO PROXY WAR: …OPPOSITION FORCES ARE TRYING TO CONTROL THE EASTERN AREAS (HASAKA AND DER ZOR), ADJACENT TO THE WESTERN IRAQI PROVINCES (MOSUL AND ANBAR), IN ADDITION TO NEIGHBORING TURKISH BORDERS. WESTERN COUNTRIES, THE GULF STATES AND TURKEY ARE SUPPORTING THESE EFFORTS. THIS HYPOTHESIS IS MOST LIKELY IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE DATA FROM RECENT EVENTS, WHICH WILL HELP PREPARE SAFE HAVENS UNDER INTERNATIONAL SHELTERING, SIMILAR TO WHAT TRANSPIRED IN LIBYA WHEN BENGHAZI WAS CHOSEN AS THE COMMAND CENTER OF THE TEMPORARY GOVERNMENT.
8.C. IF THE SITUATION UNRAVELS THERE IS THE POSSIBILITY OFESTABLISHING A DECLARED OR UNDECLARED SALAFIST PRINCIPALITY IN EASTERN SYRIA (HASAKA AND DER ZOR), AND THIS IS EXACTLY WHAT THE SUPPORTING POWERS TO THE OPPOSITION WANT, IN ORDER TO ISOLATE THE SYRIAN REGIME, WHICH IS CONSIDERED THE STRATEGIC DEPTH OF THE SHIA EXPANSION (IRAQ AND IRAN)
8.D.1. …ISI COULD ALSO DECLARE AN ISLAMIC STATE THROUGH ITS UNION WITH OTHER TERRORIST ORGANIZATIONS IN IRAQ AND SYRIA, WHICH WILL CREATE GRAVE DANGER IN REGARDS TO UNIFYING IRAQ AND THE PROTECTION OF ITS TERRITORY.
The acronym ISI refers to a transitional identification between AQI and ISIS. The Pentagon was already very familiar with AQI; it had defeated AQI and driven it out into the desert, fractured and without effective leadership. Even the New York Times points this out in its narrative of the US failures in dealing effectively with ISIS:
Beaten back by the American troop surge and Sunni tribal fighters, it was considered such a diminished threat that the bounty the United States put on one of its leaders had dropped from $5 million to $100,000. The group’s new chief was just 38 years old, a nearsighted cleric, not even a fighter, with little of the muscle of his predecessor, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the godfather of Iraq’s insurgency, killed by the American military four years earlier after a relentless hunt.
“Where is the Islamic State of Iraq you are talking about?” the Yemeni wife of one leader demanded, according to Iraqi police testimony. “We’re living in the desert!”
By 2010, then, the battle was all but won. Even Barack Obama acknowledged this, at least when it suited his political needs. He and Joe Biden celebrated the withdrawal from Iraq as an American victory and the end of the war in 2011, and then spent 2012 campaigning on the claim that Obama had won the war in Iraq, ending it. Instead, he let AQI off the hook to reorganize and gain strength, and by August 2012 — a month prior to the Benghazi attack in another military action Obama and Hillary Clinton had claimed to have won, too — military intelligence had seen enough from AQI/ISI to realize that they were on the cusp of declaring a caliphate, and making it stick.
But that didn’t “meet the narrative” at the White House. Obama couldn’t admit that the Islamists were gaining strength again in Iraq during the 2012 campaign, and refused to do so afterward either. Even as late as January 2014, after ISIS sacked Fallujah, Obama still scornfully referred to them as a “jayvee team” that Iraq could handle. Had the US acted on DIA’s assessment in 2012, Obama might have lost a campaign talking point but could have prevented much of what has followed, including some of the scope of the present refugee crisis.
Small wonder, then, that Obama would prefer to sling accusations about “widows and orphans” rather than answer questions about his leadership.