Two defence secretaries who previously served under President Obama are now criticising his decisions in countering the militant group Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS).
In a new interview with “CBS Evening News,” former Secretary of Defence Leon Panetta says ISIS emerged as a threat because the US pulled out of Iraq too soon and became involved in Syria too late.
“I really thought that it was important for us to maintain a presence in Iraq,” Panetta, who served as defence secretary and director of central intelligence under Obama, told CBS in a short clip of a full interview to air on “60 Minutes.”
Panetta tells reporter Scott Pelley the entire national security team was unanimous in urging the president to do more to support rebels who, fighting against Bashar al-Assad in Syria at that time, had begun a civil war that now continues to rage more than three years later.
“The real key was how can we develop a leadership group among the opposition that would be able to take control. And my view was to have leverage to do that, we would have to provide the weapons and the training in order for them to really be willing to work with us in that effort.”
Panetta isn’t the only former Pentagon chief to speak out. On Wednesday, former Defence Secretary Robert Gates — Panetta’s predecessor — also weighed in on what the US is now doing against ISIS.
“The reality is, they’re not gonna be able to be successful against ISIS strictly from the air, or strictly depending on the Iraqi forces, or the Peshmerga, or the Sunni tribes acting on their own,” Gates told “CBS This Morning.” “So there will be boots on the ground if there’s to be any hope of success in the strategy. And I think that by continuing to repeat that [the U.S. won’t put boots on the ground], the president, in effect, traps himself.”
Gates also takes issue with the language used, as Obama has said his goal is to “degrade and destroy” ISIS.
“I’m also concerned that the goal has been stated as ‘degrade and destroy’ or ‘degrade and defeat’ ISIS. We’ve been at war with Al Qaeda for 13 years. We have dealt them some terrible blows, including the killing of Osama bin Laden. But I don’t think anybody would say that after 13 years we’ve destroyed or defeated Al Qaeda. So I think to promise that we’re going to destroy ISIS or ISIL sets a goal that may be unattainable.”
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