I thought we already knew this, or at least knew the basics of it — defense analysts at Centcom were apparently pressured by their superiors to take a rosier view of the progress against ISIS than was actually warranted. Who precisely wanted the books cooked to suggest things were going well is the key question, which this story doesn’t answer.
Great thinking, though, by the guilty parties in lying to the public about a jihadi threat, knowing that one major attack in the west would destroy their credibility instantly.
Analysts at U.S. Central Command were pressured to ease off negative assessments about the Islamic State threat and were even told in an email to “cut it out,” Fox News has learned – as an investigation expands into whether intelligence reports were altered to present a more positive picture.
Fox News is told by a source close to the CENTCOM analysts that the pressure on them included at least two emails saying they needed to “cut it out” and “toe the line.”
Separately, a former Pentagon official told Fox News there apparently was an attempt to destroy the communications. The Pentagon official said the email warnings were “not well received” by the analysts…
Among the complaints is that after the U.S. air campaign started in August 2014, the metrics to measure progress changed. They were modified to use measures such as the number of sorties and body counts — a metric not used since the Vietnam War — to paint a more positive picture.
“The cancer was within the senior level of the intelligence command,” one analyst told the Daily Beast in September. But why was the intelligence command so eager to tweak the data? Another Daily Beast story, this one from August, suggested an answer:
Two defense officials said that some felt the commander for intelligence at CENTCOM failed to keep political pressures from Washington from bearing on lower-level analysts at command headquarters in Tampa, Florida. That pressure, while described as subtle and not overt, is nevertheless clear, the analysts said: Assessments on ISIS should comport with “the leadership consensus,” that is, top policymakers’ view, that the U.S.-led campaign against the group is paying dividends.
Obama declared war on ISIS informally on September 10 of last year. Maybe the thought was that some good press in the first few months of the mission would help Democrats in the midterms. (Which, if true, was stupid. How often does foreign policy matter to any vote, let alone a midterm vote, especially when the other party’s cheerleading the intervention?) Beyond that, I don’t get it. Eventually, after watching Putin enter the war on Assad’s side to prop him up against the Sunni rebels and reading stories about ISIS mass-murdering Yazidis or bulldozing ancient ruins, the public would figure out that the jihadis have been operating with near impunity. The lie about progress here was always destined to be exposed. So why lie?
While you think about that, read Byron York’s report on the Pentagon’s Friday press conference, in which a spokesman was asked why it took so long to take out some of ISIS’s oil trucks. That’s their economic lifeline; if you want to starve them of resources, one of your first priorities should be to cut them off from their confiscated oil well. Watch the response below at 16:45. It’s beyond belief:
Warren explained that American officials were deeply worried about harming the truck drivers, who were working for ISIS but might not be ISIS themselves. U.S. officials settled on a plan to drop leaflets on the trucks about 45 minutes before the raid, warning the drivers that an attack was coming, while U.S. pilots flew low passes over the area. Planning all that took time…
“We have not struck these trucks before,” Warren said. “We assessed that these trucks, while although they are being used for operations that support ISIL, the truck drivers, themselves, [are] probably not members of ISIL; they’re probably just civilians. So we had to figure out a way around that. We’re not in this business to kill civilians, we’re in this business to stop ISIL — to defeat ISIL.”…
Finally, when all the work had been done, 300 ISIS trucks were found in one place. It was an inviting target.
“These trucks were queued up,” Warren said. “They were sitting sort of on flat desert. There wasn’t really anything recognizable as a road around. It was just out there on the desert floor in the vicinity of one of these oil fields, one of these oil facilities that we’ve been striking. So they were queued up there waiting to take on their illicit oil…So these trucks were — they were just sitting there, not moving.”
I don’t know where to start. For one thing, the U.S. has frequently targeted jihadis in drone strikes notwithstanding the risk of civilian casualties. (In a “signature strike,” the drone operator isn’t even sure that the target is a jihadi.) The logic, of course, is that by taking the shot and neutralizing a threat, you end up saving more civilians in the long run. The same logic applies here: Wipe out ISIS’s fleet of oil trucks, even at the price of killing the drivers, and suddenly the barbarians who are rampaging across Syria and Iraq have a financial crunch on their hands. If that ends the war more quickly, more civilians end up being spared from ISIS’s depredations. Beyond that, imagine how ISIS is going to treat a truck driver who caught one of the dropped fliers and ran away to save himself without taking his truck. How many civilians on the scene that day will actually end up being spared? (And how many trucks that might have been destroyed without the warning did in fact speed away before the attack?) Also, how can it be that this is the first U.S. strike on ISIS’s oil distribution network 14 months into the campaign? If the fear is that ISIS will use attacks on the trucks as propaganda to claim that Americans have declared war on the Syrian people, I think we’ve probably already crossed that bridge. If you’re waiting for a fair shake from the ISIS messaging team, you’ll be waiting a long time.
And finally: If you were targeting 300 trucks, why would you only supply your planes with enough explosives to destroy 116? Because that’s what happened. More than half the trucks got away because … U.S. planes simply ran out of bombs on their mission.
Why are we fighting this war if we’re going to fight it like this?
Update: Now that’s more like it. AFP headline: “U.S. warplanes destroy 283 fuel trucks in Syria.”