Analysis: What does US Intel really know about ISIL?
The US intelligence failure on ISIL is raising serious questions in the Middle East.
A major cause of President George W Bush’s blunder in Iraq was US intelligence failures, first over Saddam Hussein’s lack of weapons of mass destruction and then, after connecting the dots of the September 11 plot, the linking of the Iraqi president to Osama bin Laden’s AlQaeda.
It took Bush’s partner in the Iraq fiasco, Tony Blair, the former British prime minister, more than 13 years to grudgingly admit in October to CNN’s Fareed Zakaria that the war conspiracy which led directly to the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and the destruction it has wreaked in the Middle East was based on “wrong” intelligence.
Without the controversy over the Chilcot Inquiry into Britain’s role in the Iraq War, it would also have been hard to get an admission from Blair that there were “elements of truth” in the idea that the invasion of Iraq in 2003 assisted the rise of the ISIL.
What he has failed to admit, however, is that the prewar intelligence was deliberately “sexed up” to build the case for the invasion. OPINION: Blair, the Iraq War and me Now, as US President Barack Obama agonises over how to defeat ISIL, it seems to be happening again.
Messy US intelligence failure in the war in Iraq has resurfaced, leading to allegations that the US Central Command (Centcom), which oversees military operations across the Middle East, is cooking the books about both ISIL and Iraq.
This week Obama ordered his senior defence officials to find out whether classified intelligence assessments for policymakers had been altered at Centcom to reflect a more optimistic picture of the US military campaign against ISIL.
With cracks revealed in France’s counterterrorism efforts by the November 13 attacks in Paris, the Centcom scandal has gained increasing attention, including a Congressional probe.
The New York Times, which first broke the story, reported that supervisors revised conclusions to mask some of the US military’s failures in training Iraqi troops and beating back ISIL.
According to the newspaper, the analysts said supervisors were particularly eager to paint a more optimistic picture of the US role in the conflict than was warranted.
While revelations that French intelligence failures might have played into the hands of ISIL in carrying out its deadly attacks in Paris and hence broadening the group’s focus to attack the West, the Pentagon spying scam tells another story of doctoring intelligence behind the group’s expansion.
It appears that the Centcom intelligence reports have overstated military progress against ISIL in Iraq, giving Obama the leeway to avoid responsibility for the rise of ISIL.
Many analysts had for years argued that Obama’s lack of vision on Iraq and his ineffective strategy in Syria would create a radicalising momentum that would help ISIL expand its power.
What the little information about the Centcom scandal revealed so far indicates is that the problem goes beyond analysis failure to actually meddling with intelligence about the campaign against ISIL, by exaggerating successes and downplaying serious setbacks in order to serve the president’s agenda.
This bodes ill for Obama whose current approach to ISIL has largely failed to dislodge the group from its strongholds in Iraq and Syria. Now Obama could face criticism that US intelligence and military officials were only telling him what he wants to hear.
However, the case of US intelligence failure over ISIL is raising more serious questions in the Middle East. Absurd as it may seem, the revelations about cracks in US intelligence have added fodder to conspiracy scenarios that Washington is behind ISIL.
While some Iraqis have complained that the US has been sitting on its hands as the war has raged against ISIL, Iranbacked Shia militias have often accused the USled coalition of parachuting weapons to ISIL fighters or even targeting Iraq’s security forces’ positions.
In Syria, Obama’s seesaw strategy has given rise to similar theories, in both President Bashar alAssad’s camp and that of his opponents. While the Assad regime blames the Pentagon for failing to foresee the rise of the “Islamic State” as a consequence of its strategy, Syrian opposition believe that the Obama administration has signed off on diplomatic initiatives aimed at bringing down Assad.
Check that against what US Senator John McCain disclosed last May that 75 percent of US pilots on missions to attack ISIL targets are returning without dropping any ordnance, due to delays in decisionmaking up the chain of command, then conspiracy theorists here seem to be making some rational points.
This analysis appeared first on Al Jazeera on November 26, 2015