President Barack Obama recently laid blame on the intelligence community for failing to anticipate and properly inform him of the impending 2014 sweep of ISIS across Iraq, in a Wednesday interview with CNN.
“The ability of ISIL to not just mass inside of Syria, but then to initiate major land offensives that took Mosul, for example, that was not on my intelligence radar screen,” Obama told CNN. Intelligence officials dispute Obama’s claim, saying he ignored the warning signs in favor of his narrative that he successfully withdrew the U.S. from the Iraq war.
When Obama took office in 2009, he was determined to pull troops out of Iraq as soon as possible. Obama believed the historic lows of violence in Iraq justified his campaign pledge to bring the war to an end, without keeping a significant U.S. presence in Iraq to ensure stability.
Obama decided did not successfully negotiate a limited military presence beyond an agreed upon 2011 withdrawal date. “After nearly nine years, America’s war in Iraq will be over,” he triumphantly declared in October 2011. Obama ignored rumbling political turmoil in Iraq, and easily cruised to an election victory in 2012.
The Defense Intelligence Agency produced a report as early as 2012 warning the Obama administration that the Syrian civil war was allowing al-Qaida to flourish. Al-Qaida could “declare an Islamic state through its union with other terrorist organizations in Iraq and Syria,” the report declared. Al-Qaida elements in Iraq and Syria later splintered from the global terrorist organization, and declared themselves the Islamic State.
“This particular report, this was one of those nobody wanted to see,” Retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, President-elect Trump’s pick for National Security Advisor and then DIA chief, told The New York Times in 2015. He continued, “It was disregarded by the White House,” elaborating “Frankly, at the White House, it didn’t meet the narrative.”
Throughout the next two-year period conditions increasingly worsened in Iraq, with little to no U.S. interest. Experts generally agree that Obama’s 2011 precipitous withdrawal, both diplomatically and militarily, from Baghdad resulted in the isolation of Sunnis, the demoralization and corruption of the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF), what later turned into fertile ground for the initial rise of ISIS.
ISIS roared to the forefront of media coverage in 2015 after it undertook a military campaign across Anbar province in Iraq, culminating in the seizure of the city of Mosul. Mosul is the second largest city in Iraq with a population of nearly 1.5 million.
The U.S. took nearly a month after the Mosul seizure to begin limited airstrikes against the group. Once the U.S. began bombing ISIS, accusations of politicized intelligence continued to plague the administration. Intelligence analysts in the Department of Defense told The Daily Beast in August 2015 their intelligence reports were massaged to make it appear as if the anti-ISIS effort was going better than it actually was.
“Intelligence products approved by senior Centcom leaders typically provided a more positive depiction of U.S. antiterrorism efforts than was warranted by facts on the ground and were consistently more positive than analysis produced by other elements of the intelligence community, a Congressional investigative panel found in August 2016.
Nearly two years later the U.S. backed Iraqi Security Forces are advancing on the city, in a bloody campaign that U.S. generals believe is likely to last months more. “If there were no civilians, we’d just burn it all,” an Iraqi counter-terrorism commander told The Washington Post of the Mosul operation in mid-November.