Saturday, December 05, 2015

ISIS, From the Horse's Mouth

It's a powerful an indictment of Tony Blair, George w. Bush and Dick Cheney: without their war of choice against Iraq, there would be no ISIS today.

In November, Der Spiegel published an interview with former US with former Defense Intelligence Agency director, General Michael Flynn, in the wake of the Paris terrorist attacks. Some of his remarks are chilling in the context of the recent massacre in San Bernardino.

There were all kinds of strategic and tactical warnings and lots of reporting. And even the guys in the Islamic State said that they were going to attack overseas. I just don't think people took them seriously. When I first heard about the recent attacks in Paris, I was like, "Oh, my God, these guys are at it again, and we're not paying attention." The change that I think we need to be more aware of is that, in Europe, there is a leadership structure. And there's likely a leader or a leadership structure in each country in Europe. The same is probably similar for the United States, but just not obvious yet.

In Osama bin Laden's writings, he elaborated about being disperse, becoming more diffuse and operating in small elements, because it's harder to detect and it's easier to act. In Paris, there were eight guys. In Mali, there were 10. Next time, maybe one or two guys will be enough.

On ISIS leader, Abu Bakh al-Baghdadi:

It's really important to differentiate between the way Osama bin Laden or Ayman al-Zawahiri represent themselves when they come out in public and how al-Baghdadi represented himself when he declared the caliphate. Bin Laden and Zawahiri sit in their videos, legs crossed, flag behind them, and they've got an AK-47 in their laps. They are presenting themselves as warriors. Baghdadi brought himself to a mosque in Mosul and spoke from the balcony, like the pope, dressed in appropriate black garb. He stood there as a holy cleric and proclaimed the Islamic caliphate. That was a very, very symbolic act. It elevated the fight from this sort of military, tactical and localized conflict to that of a religious and global war.

We used to say, "We'll just keep killing the leaders, and the next guy up is not going to be as good." That didn't work out that way because al-Baghdadi is better than Zarqawi, and Zarqawi was actually better than bin Laden.
...Zarqawi tried to bring in foreign fighters, but not in the way that al-Baghdadi has been able to do. At the peak of Zarqawi's days, they may have been bringing in 150 a month from a dozen countries. Al-Baghdadi is bringing in 1,500 fighters a month, from more than 100 nations. He's using the modern weapons of the information age in fundamentally different ways to strengthen the attraction of their ideology. The other thing is how they target. Zarqawi was absolutely brutal -- he randomly killed guys lining up for jobs in downtown Baghdad. Al-Baghdadi is much smarter and more precise in his target selection, but still very vicious.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: In February 2004, you already had Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in your hands -- he was imprisoned in in a military camp, but got cleared later as harmless by a US military commission. How could that fatal mistake happen?

Flynn: We were too dumb. We didn't understand who we had there at that moment. When 9/11 occurred, all the emotions took over, and our response was, "Where did those bastards come from? Let's go kill them. Let's go get them." Instead of asking why they attacked us, we asked where they came from. Then we strategically marched in the wrong direction.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: The US invaded Iraq even though Saddam Hussein had nothing to do with 9/11.

Flynn: First we went to Afghanistan, where al-Qaida was based. Then we went into Iraq. Instead of asking ourselves why the phenomenon of terror occurred, we were looking for locations. This is a major lesson we must learn in order not to make the same mistakes again.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: The Islamic State wouldn't be where it is now without the fall of Baghdad. Do you regret ...

Flynn: ... yes, absolutely ...

SPIEGEL ONLINE: ... the Iraq war?

Flynn: It was huge error. As brutal as Saddam Hussein was, it was a mistake to just eliminate him. The same is true for Moammar Gadhafi and for Libya, which is now a failed state. The historic lesson is that it was a strategic failure to go into Iraq. History will not be and should not be kind with that decision.


Dana said...

Learning lessons requires being able to admit, even to oneself, that uncertainty exists.

The current western leadership is unwilling and/or unable to entertain uncertainty.

Anonymous said...

"Tony Blair, George w. Bush and Dick Cheney"... One need to add few other names such as Rumsfeld, Pearle and Wolfowitz. Few other architects of the deception would also qualify...

Owen Gray said...

We are the authors of our own misery.

theo said...

To take exception with the good General Flynn, Iraq most definitely and Afghanistan possibly, were not about getting the “bad guys’. Iraq was was a war of resource conquest and Afghanistan could be argued the same way. The money line I remember from some US staffer was “Pipelines or Bombs. Take your pick’”. Both wars could be argued as wars of acquisition but Iraq there is no doubt. 9/11 was the excuse and for some people a huge amount of money was made at the expense of the blood of the military and the wealth of America.

For the General to argue mistakes were made implies the US military high command are dumber than a sack of hammers. They were entirely complicit in the war and they knew beforehand what the likely outcomes would be. They just didn’t care. Much like our own Air Force High Staff who think the F-35 is a good replacement for the F-18.

I could go on but it ruins the taste of my wine.

Anonymous said...

@# Blair, Bush and Cheney.
I find it difficult to sympathise with our western governments and their populous whilst the instigators of this 100 year war remain at large.
If we do not own up to our mistakes then we are going to repeat them.

The Mound of Sound said...

@ Dana. I'm just revisiting Raulston Saul's "The End of Globalism." It's a far better read the second time around. One of the points he makes is that, in the age of globalism, political leadership has both surrendered national sovereignty to multinational corporations but, in the process, has also abandoned a lot of the responsibility once expected of political leaders.

We have, going back as far as Martin's decision to send Canadian forces into combat in Kandahar, effectively outsourced our defence and the associated elements of our foreign policy to Washington.

Just look at how readily Canada enlisted in America's Aerial Foreign Legion, always ready to send penny packets of CF-18s wherever it seemed politically advantageous to join the herd.

Remember when Harper staged his "Mission Accomplished" CF-18 flypast over Parliament Hill to celebrate our grand victory in Libya?

The Mound of Sound said...

@ Owen, that pretty much nails it. How else would we get dragged into these conflicts we have no prospect of winning?

The Mound of Sound said...

@ Theo - well put. I'm convinced that, when it comes to these failed foreign adventures, we're afflicted with incompetent leadership, military and political.

Hillier has never accounted for his scheme to drive the Talibs out of Kandahar province with a paltry total force of just 2,500 personnel, a fraction of which were combat troops. Hillier claimed the insurgents numbered just "a few dozen." I remember that coming out of his mouth when he was ringed by reporters after winning the go-ahead from Martin. Yet, in the following years, when it became apparent Hillier's few dozen were actually several thousand, our force numbers remained static - 2,500.

When the counterinsurgents, us, cannot dominate their territory, the only outcome can be failure. Defeat is the unspoken reality of withdrawal leaving the insurgents holding the field.