The Obama administration isn’t capable of fighting the type of war necessary to defeat the Islamic State, a former CIA official told The Hill.
“I don’t think they understand the kind of war they need to fight,” Henry Crumpton, a former CIA official who led teams in Afghanistan against the Taliban, told the publication. “They’re waging the war they want to fight but not the one that will lead to success.”
The Obama administration’s efforts against the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, have been aimed at propping up the Iraqi government in Baghdad while conducting airstrikes against jihadist targets throughout Iraq and Syria.
The US has also expressed support to use the Shiite-dominated Iraqi central government to channel arms and other forms of aid to Sunni tribal fighters and members of the Kurdish militia.
But the US has refused to directly assist groups outside the Baghdad government for fear of stoking sectarianism within the country. The Obama administration has also pledged not to send combat troops to Iraq and not to expand the US’ on-the-ground military presence beyond small deployments of military advisers and trainers.
Crumpton, who joined the CIA in 1981, believes this limited support is insufficient when facing an enemy like ISIS. In his view, the US needs a greater military and intelligence footprint in Iraq if it wants to fully dismantle the militant group.
“You have to have an intelligence presence on the ground. It really is a question of deep intelligence and empathy,” he told The Hill. This would allow the US to conduct a larger number of precision strikes against the group while also better anticipating its future moves.
A more robust intelligence network would also allow the US to understand the political dynamics at the ground level. This information could be leveraged to form alliances and work toward political solutions among Sunni tribes disgusted with both ISIS and the central Iraqi government.
US airstrikes against ISIS are also becoming less effective because the group has changed its tactics. It now houses prisoners within its main buildings and is increasingly fighting within densely populated civilian areas. These new practices are aimed at deterring airstrikes, as the US is reluctant to take actions that would harm civilians.
ISIS’ adaptive tactics, coupled with US reluctance to become more deeply involved in the conflict, has led to a cold streak in the fight against the group. In May, ISIS seized the Iraqi provincial capital of Ramadi, just 77 miles from Baghdad. At the same time, the Iraqi military has proved less and less capable of fighting the group.
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