Lt. Col. Shaffer: Quicker Response Could Have Saved Foley

Thursday, 21 Aug 2014 04:31 PM

By Sean Piccoli

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A daring operation to free American journalist James Foley failed because a White House reluctant to commit to combat in Syria waited too long to act on intelligence indicating Foley's whereabouts, national security expert and retired U.S. Army Lt. Col. Tony Shaffer told Newsmax TV on Thursday.

"President Obama vacillated on the idea of expanding our military effort into Syria, and I do understand that, but when you vacillate you take the chance of the intelligence going stale," Shaffer, senior fellow at the London Center for Policy Research, told "MidPoint" host Ed Berliner.

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"That's what I'm hearing happened here," said Shaffer.

Foley and other captives of the radical Islamic State were not at the location in Syria raided earlier this summer by a special forces team that wound up in a firefight with militants from IS, formerly known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Foley, who went missing in Syria in November 2012, was beheaded in a gruesome execution video posted online by ISIS on Tuesday, one day after U.S. airstrikes helped Iraqi forces retake the Mosul Dam from ISIS fighters. 

Disclosure of the rescue effort has also drawn criticism as an unnecessary and potentially damaging head's-up to America's enemies in Syria: ISIS and Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad.

"The guys who did this [operation] didn't want to telegraph the fact that we'd been starting to move into this area," said Shaffer. "It's one thing for someone like me to speculate. It's another thing entirely for it to be admitted as a matter of policy. So that's where we're at."

The administration has defended going public as a pre-emptive response to news outlets that had already learned of the operation through leaks and were preparing to publish details.

Shaffer described the unsuccessful rescue bid as a culmination of poor policy choices by an administration determined to pull back militarily from the Middle East.

"There's all sorts of off-ramps the president could've took, should've taken, over the past year," said Shaffer. "This is but one new one. … These [special forces] guys can do amazing things, but you've got to give them the green light. You've got to say, 'Go do it,' and you've got to do it when the time is right regarding the intelligence. … This was another missed opportunity."

Shaffer said that the abortive Foley mission "isn't as bad as Desert One under Carter," alluding to a distastrous 1980 hostage rescue effort in Iran authorized by President Jimmy Carter.

"But it's close," he said.

"The whole narrative right now could've been a good news narrative, and because we have had such weak leadership on this … good intelligence has been wasted," said Shaffer. "I'm hoping the White House wakes up here … to understand that the intelligence needs to be acted on immediately. Sitting on it for 30 days does not help anyone."

But Shaffer said that indications still point to a White House that wants to treat Islamic terrorism as a law-enforcement problem.

"The Eric Holder assignment to go after ISIS is kind of like assigning Mickey Mouse to go after Al Capone," Shaffer said of the U.S. attorney general's promise on Thursday that Foley's killers will be "held accountable."

"I'm sorry – it's totally ridiculous," said Shaffer.

He said its also a repeat of "the pattern we saw before 9/11."

"I see the same thing developing here, this kind of, 'Hey, let's just send lawyers in to take care of this,'" said Shaffer. "Lawyers aren't going to stop this. We've got to accept this as a military proposition with military objectives."

He said those objectives will "absolutely" require more U.S. combat operations inside  Syria.

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