Republicans say officials overstated U.S.success against the Islamic State
Tom Vanden Brook | USA TODAY1 day ago
WASHINGTON – Military officials in command of the war against the Islamic State skewed analysis of battlefield intelligence to paint a rosy picture of the U.S.-led offensive to counter the militant group, according to a report from congressional Republicans released on Thursday.
A joint task force of Republicans on the House Armed Services and Intelligence committees issued interim findings showing that the leadership of U.S. Central Command “typically provided a more positive depiction of U.S. anti-terrorism efforts than warranted by facts on the ground and were consistently more positive than analysis produced by other elements of the intelligence community.” CENTCOM is responsible for the fight against the Islamic State, also known as ISIL or ISIS.
Bad analysis of battlefield intelligence carries enormous potential consequences. Flawed intelligence about Iraq’s nuclear and chemical weapons was used to justify the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
Because the Pentagon Inspector General is also investigating the allegations of skewed intelligence at CENTCOM, Defense Department officials cannot comment on the task force findings, Navy Lt. Cdr. Patrick Evans, a Pentagon spokesman, said Thursday. However, Evans pointed out that senior military leaders consider intelligence reports from sources other than CENTCOM’s analysts when assessing the security situation in Iraq and Syria.
The congressional task force found that senior CENTCOM leaders in 2014 and 2015 “softened” the reports of their own intelligence analysts to create a more positive image of progress in training Iraqi forces and the U.S.-led air campaign against fighters from the Islamic State.
ISIL stormed through Iraq and Syria in the summer of 2014, overrunning key cities, including Mosul, Iraq’s second largest. Iraqi forces put up minimal resistance before fleeing. U.S. warplanes began striking ISIL targets in Iraq in August 2014 and expanded their attacks to Syria a month later.
More than 50,000 air raids, most of them conducted by U.S. pilots, have taken place, Army Lt. Gen. Sean MacFarland, the top commander in Baghdad, told reporters on Wednesday. They have killed as many as 45,000 ISIL fighters and helped drive them from 40% of the territory they occupied at their peak.
The report highlighted congressional testimony, statements and press releases from early 2015 that were “significantly more positive than actual events.” Army Gen. Lloyd Austin, CENTCOM commander at the time, told congress that ISIL was in a “defensive crouch.” In the spring of 2015, another CENTCOM commander echoed Austin, saying that ISIL was “losing ground”; a week later, ISIL fighters — despite being outnumbered 10-to-1 — overran the western Iraqi city of Ramadi.
“After months of investigation, this much is very clear: from the middle of 2014 to the middle of 2015, the United States Central Command’s most senior intelligence leaders manipulated the command’s intelligence products to downplay the threat from ISIS in Iraq,” Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Kan., said in a statement. “The result: consumers of those intelligence products were provided a consistently ‘rosy’ view of U.S. operational success against ISIS. That may well have resulted in putting American troops at risk as policymakers relied on this intelligence when formulating policy and allocating resources for the fight.”
House Democrats examined whistleblower allegations of intelligence manipulation at CENTCOM separately and found that “an overly insular process” for assessing intelligence had failed to sufficiently consider dissenting views and damaged morale among analysts.
“However, we found no evidence of politicization of intelligence in this case,” Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., the ranking member of the Intelligence Committee, said in a statement.