Tags: obama | admits | intelligence | failure | war | action

Obama Admits Intelligence Failure on ISIS as Lawmakers Press Congressional War Action

Sunday, 28 September 2014 03:43 PM

President Barack Obama said U.S. intelligence officials failed to appreciate the gains made by Islamic State (ISIS) extremists in Syria during the last few years of that country’s civil war.

“I think they underestimated what had been taking place in Syria,” Obama said in a pre-taped interview that aired Sunday night on CBS’s “60 Minutes” program.

“Over the past couple of years, during the chaos of the Syrian civil war, where essentially you have huge swaths of the country that are completely ungoverned,” the president said, Islamic State was “able to reconstitute themselves and take advantage of that chaos.”

“This became ground zero for jihadists around the world,” Obama said of Syria, where Islamic State now controls territory in the east, centered on the city of Raqqa.

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Obama also said the U.S. overestimated the ability and will of the Iraqi army to fight the radical Sunni group, which also controls part of northern Iraq.

“Where you’ve got states that are failing or in the midst of civil war, these kinds of organizations thrive,” he said.

The interview was Obama’s first since the U.S. expanded its war against Islamic State extremists in Iraq by conducting airstrikes in Syria with the help of five Arab nations. The newly formed coalition is the biggest U.S.-Arab military venture since the 1991 war to liberate Kuwait from Iraqi occupation.

Obama also said the U.S. overestimated the ability and will of the Iraqi army to fight the radical Sunni group, which also controls part of northern Iraq.

"Where you've got states that are failing or in the midst of civil war, these kinds of organizations thrive," he said.

The interview was Obama’s first since the U.S. expanded its war against ISIS extremists in Iraq by conducting airstrikes in Syria with the help of five Arab nations. The newly formed coalition is the biggest U.S.-Arab military venture since the 1991 war to liberate Kuwait from Iraqi occupation.

Obama admitted it is a "significant period" in American history, not only with the ISIS conflict to deal with, but also Russian incursions into Ukraine the Ebola virus outbreak in West Africa.

But he said that the situation he faced when he entered the office in 2009 was also pretty bad.

"We had not only two wars still active, but we also had a world financial system which was becoming unraveling," and were losing 800,000 jobs a month, he said. "So, you know, we've had challenges before. And we've overcome them."

When interviewer Steve Kroft pointed out that Obama has spent most of his six years in office trying to get America out of military conflicts, Obama said he draws a distinction between counterterrorism and "occupying armies" in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"That's very different from us having 150,000 troops in Iraq on the ground or – 60,000 in Afghanistan," he said.

When asked if he was saying America isn't really engaging in war, Obama said the United States is "assisting Iraq in a very real battle that's taking place on their soil, with their troops."

He insisted the airstrikes the United States is conduction is does not constitute war with ISIS.

"This is America leading the international community to assist a country with whom we have a security partnership with, to make sure that they are able to take care of their business," he said.

This is not America against ISIL,” Obama, using the administration’s shorthand for Islamic State, said. “This is America leading the international community to assist a country with whom we have a security partnership with, to make sure that they are able to take care of their business.

“America leads,” Obama said. “We are the indispensable nation. We have capacity no one else has. Our military is the best in the history of the world. And when trouble comes up anywhere in the world, they don’t call Beijing. They don’t call Moscow. They call us.”

He said the radical Muslim extremism popping up in different parts of the world shows why what he terms a "whack-a-mole" approach of sending U.S. troops from one hot spot to another won't work.

Instead, he said, the United States has to build strong partnerships.

"We've got to get Arab and Muslim leaders to say very clearly, 'These folks do not represent us. They do not represent Islam,' and to speak out forcefully against them," he said.

Obama defended his earlier characterization of the Free Syrian Army, which he now wants to provide with arms and training as farmers, doctors and pharmacists. He told Kroft that two years ago, when some members of Congress wanted to arm the rebels, the statement was true.

He also admitted that helping the rebels now to fight ISIS in Syria's three-way civil war, also helps the regime of President Bashar Assad, whom the administration wants ousted from power.

On Russian President Vladimir Putin's recent military moves into Ukrainian territory, Obama called the relationship with Putin "business-like … and it's blunt and it's firm."

He foresees no NATO military confrontation with Russia, insisting that the Kremlin is aware an attack on a NATO ally will bring assistance from other member nations.

Obama believes Democrats can hold the Senate in November's midterm elections, and said he plans to let the American people know that the bad economy he inherited is better, even if people can't feel it.

"We had unemployment up at 10 percent, its now down to 6.1, " he said. " We've had the longest run of uninterrupted private sector job growth in our history. We have seen deficits cut by more than half.

"I can put my record against any leader around the world in terms of digging ourselves out of a terrible … almost unprecedented financial crisis," he said. "Ronald Reagan used to ask the question, 'Are you better off than you were four years ago?' In this case, are you better off than you were in six?"

In the latest strikes, conducted yesterday and today, aircraft from the U.S., Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates destroyed a tank, armed vehicles, a Humvee, and struck a command-and-control center and four modular oil refineries in Syria all owned or controlled by Islamic State forces, according to a statement issued today by U.S. Central Command.

As part of the opening air attack in Syria last week, the U.S. also struck targets purported to be aligned with the Khorasan Group, an al-Qaeda affiliate that U.S. officials described as plotting terrorist attacks in the U.S. or Europe.

“I think we’ve had a very good start,” Deputy National Security Adviser Tony Blinken said today on CBS, when asked about the military offensive against Islamic State.

“We wanted to get an inclusive Iraqi government in place so we’d have a partner to work with in Iraq,” Blinken said. “We wanted to get support to train and equip the Syrian opposition. And we had a broad bipartisan vote in support of that in Congress.”

Even so, lawmakers on Sunday’s television talk shows raised concerns about the operation, including whether U.S. ground troops ultimately will be required and whether Obama should ask Congress to authorize the use of force, particularly in Syria.

The Obama administration has ruled out U.S. ground forces, saying it can rely on Iraqi and Kurdish troops to fight Islamic State militants in Iraq, while training and arming moderate Syrian rebels to do the same in Syria.

“I don’t see the political strategy, at least a realistic one, in Syria,” said Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut, a Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee. “And then that begs the question, how long are we going to be there and is there any end? There’s just no appetite in the American public for an open-ended military conflict in Syria,” he said on CNN’s “State of the Union” program.

House Speaker John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, said the U.S. will have “no choice” but to put American troops on the ground if those other nations fail to do so.

“These are barbarians,” Boehner said of Islamic State forces, in an interview for ABC’s “This Week” program. “They intend to kill us, and if we don’t destroy them first, we’re going to pay the price.”

Boehner also said he would be willing to call Congress back into session to vote to authorize the use of military force in Iraq and Syria, if Obama asked him for such a resolution.

“I think he does have the authority to do it, but the point I’ve been making is that this is a proposal that the Congress ought to consider,” Boehner said.

Blinken gave no indication that Obama will seek a new resolution from Congress to authorize the military operation.

“That’s something we’d welcome,” Blinken said. “We do not require it. We have the existing authorization from 2001. That is a basis for proceeding.”

He also sidestepped questions about whether the U.S. should create a no-fly zone in Syria that would prevent President Bashar al-Assad from using his air force to strike moderate rebels whom the U.S. is aiding.

“Other ideas that may come into play down the line, we’re looking at all of that,” Blinken said. “Right now, we’re setting ISIL back,” he said, using an acronym for Islamic State.

The interview with Obama was conducted Sept. 26, upon his return to the White House from the United Nations General Assembly, where he pressed for more nations to fight Islamic State, won a Security Council resolution calling for a crackdown on the flow of foreign fighters, and laid out a strategy to counter Muslim extremists with force.

In his Sept. 24 speech to the General Assembly, Obama said that while the world has made great strides since the founding of the UN after World War II, the brutal ideology of terrorist groups such as Islamic State must be eliminated.

Obama later led the UN Security Council in its 15-0 vote for a resolution aimed at information sharing and cracking down on the recruiting, equipping and financing of foreign fighters who go into conflict zones and then back to their home countries.

U.S. intelligence agencies estimate that more than 15,000 individuals from more than 80 countries have traveled to Syria in recent years to join its civil war. Many joined groups such as the al-Nusra Front, an al-Qaeda offshoot, and Islamic State, the president said.

Some foreign fighters who hold passports from the U.S. or European countries may return home to launch terrorist attacks, U.S. officials have said.


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President Barack Obama said U.S. intelligence officials failed to appreciate the gains made by Islamic State extremists in Syria during the last few years of that country's civil war. "I think they underestimated what had been taking place in Syria," Obama said in a taped...
obama, admits, intelligence, failure, war, action
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2014-43-28
Sunday, 28 September 2014 03:43 PM
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