In an interview with Fox News, Secretary of State John Kerry said “nobody expected” Iraqi security forces to be decisively driven out by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, as they were earlier this month in Mosul. But in a briefing with reporters, the senior intelligence official said the intelligence community had warned about the ISIS threat.
FOX News “During the past year, the intelligence community has provided strategic warning of Iraq’s deteriorating security situation,” the official said. “We routinely highlighted (ISIS’) growing threat in Iraq, the increasing difficulties Iraq’s security forced faced in combating (ISIS), and the political strains that were contributing to Iraq’s declining stability.”
Asked who failed to act, the official did not explain.
MILITANTS attacked one of Iraq’s largest air bases and seized control of several small oilfields on Wednesday. In northern Iraq the Sunni militants extended a two-week advance that has been led by the hardline Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) but also includes an amalgam of other Sunni groups angered by Maliki’s rule.
Militants overran the Ajeel oil site, 30 km (19 miles) east of Tikrit, which contains at least three small oilfields that produce 28,000 barrels per day, an engineer working at the field said. The engineer said local tribes had taken responsibility for protecting the fields after police withdrew but that they also left after the nearby town of al-Alam was seized by militants.
Insurgents have surrounded a massive air base nearby, which was known as “Camp Anaconda” under U.S. occupation, and struck it with mortars. Eyewitnesses said the air base had been surrounded on three sides.
In recent days, Baghdad’s grip on the Western frontier with Syria and Jordan has also been challenged. One post on the Syrian border has fallen to Sunni militants and another has been taken over by the Kurds. A third crossing with Syria and the only crossing with Jordan are contested, with anti-government fighters and Baghdad both claiming control.
For ISIS, capturing the frontier is a step towards the goal of erasing the modern border altogether and building a caliphate across swathes of Iraq and Syria.
Offering a grave warning about the current strength of the group — which is a State Department-designated terror organization — the official also said that barring a major counteroffensive, the intelligence community assesses that ISIS is “well-positioned to keep the territory it has gained.”The official said the ISIS “strike force” now has between 3,000 and 5,000 members.
Further, the official said ISIS, as a former Al Qaeda affiliate, has the “aspiration and intent” to target U.S. interests. Asked if Americans have joined, the intelligence official said it “stands to reason that Americans have joined.”
The information from the intelligence community adds to the picture of what is known about the ISIS threat, and what might have been known in the weeks and months before its militants seized Mosul and other northern cities and towns.
Kerry, speaking with Fox News on Tuesday in the middle of a multi-country swing through the Middle East and Europe as he tries to calm the sectarian crisis in Iraq, pushed back on the notion that more could have been done from a Washington perspective to prevent the takeovers. Pressed on whether the fall of Mosul and other cities to Sunni militants marks an intelligence failure, Kerry said nobody could have predicted Iraqi security forces would have deserted.
“We don’t have people embedded in those units, and so obviously nobody knew that. I think everybody in Iraq was surprised. People were surprised everywhere,” he said.
When asked what the U.S. did to shore up Mosul, after seeing other Iraqi cities fall earlier this year, Kerry added: “In the end, the Iraqis are responsible for their defense, and nobody expected wholesale desertion and wholesale betrayal, in a sense, by some leaders who literally either signed up with the guys who came in or walked away from their posts and put on their civilian clothes.
“No, nobody expected that.”
But aside from the apparent warnings from the U.S. intelligence community, reports in The Telegraph and Daily Beast claim that Kurdish sources did warn American and British officials that ISIS was gaining strength and ready to advance, but it “fell on deaf ears.”
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