|ISIS fighters celebrate a battlefield victory|
I thought we had put this issue to rest after the inflated body counts of Vietnam. Quite possibly the Obama Administration is playing a variation of that same alternate reality game. Virtually every assessment and announcement from either the White House or the Pentagon has told us that the military campaign against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is going well and that the terrorist army of the self-proclaimed Islamic State is on the defensive.
As a military analyst for CNN, I follow the fighting in Iraq and Syria closely - I monitor a variety of media from all sides. That includes not only the American press, but official Syrian, Iraqi and yes, ISIS reporting, as well as a variety of social media sites that cover all aspects of the situation in the region.
As you can imagine, there are great discrepancies in the descriptions of the same events. At times, I have shaken my head at some of the pronouncements from the Pentagon press office and even from the U.S. Central Command, the combatant command conducting the military operations.
Normally the CENTCOM reports are factual accounts of sorties flown, weapons employed and damage assessments. On the other hand, Pentagon spokesmen tend to portray the Operation Inherent Resolve as stopping ISIS's advances and forcing them into a defensive posture. There was certainly a disconnect in the reports of low sortie rates and just a few weapons actually being employed emanating from the theater versus the rosy portrayal coming out of the Pentagon.
I remember the reports of the "success" of the Iraqi Army in ejecting ISIS from the city of Tikrit, when most of the actual fighting was done by Iranian-trained and led Shi'a militias. As the Pentagon assured us that ISIS was now contained, the Islamists mounted a successful assault on the city of al-Ramadi, the capital of al-Anbar province, located on the Euphrates River just 65 miles from Baghdad - all the while under attack from the air. This hardly fits the definition of "on the defensive."
Obviously there is a problem here - either the intelligence community can't figure out what is going on with ISIS or someone is misleading the public. Having spent a career in the intelligence business - most of it in the Middle East - I am opting for the latter.
In any case, the Department of Defense inspector general (IG) has opened an investigation. Unfortunately, from the wording of the available reporting it appears that the focus is going to be on professional military officers at CENTCOM rather than the political appointees (that means dyed-in-the-wool Obama supporters) at the Pentagon. Guess who is going to be thrown under the bus....
It is obvious that someone is taking the intelligence reporting and putting the best face on it. Actually, that is too kind - someone is cooking the intelligence to make it fit into the narrative dictated by the White House and the political leadership at the Pentagon.
The anemic air campaign - just 20 strikes today - is having an effect, to be sure, but the Defense Intelligence Agency estimates that ISIS is about as strong and capable today as it was when the air campaign began over a year ago. Much of that is due to the easy access to Syria via Turkey for supplies and the thousands of volunteers wishing to join ISIS. Hopefully Turkey's recent decision to participate in the U.S.-led coalition will staunch that flow.
I suspect that at each intermediate echelon between CENTCOM's forward headquarters in Qatar and the Pentagon, the intelligence and operational assessments of the military campaign against ISIS change slightly for the better. Everyone wants to cast the operation in a favorable light - accentuate the positive, downplay the negative. When it gets to the politicos at the Pentagon, I suspect it is tailored to fit the narrative emanating from the White House press room.
I applaud the Defense Department's decision to launch an IG investigation - it is easily warranted. The IG is supposed to be an independent investigative agency that deals in facts and lets the evidence guide the investigation. Pardon me if I am not filled with confidence - some colonel at CENTCOM will take the fall.
Is our government lying to us? I fear that it is.