President Barack Obama cited similar strategies targeting terrorist groups in Somalia and Yemen as examples of how the U.S. would take on the group that calls itself the Islamic State (also known as ISIS or ISIL).
His analogy was quickly rebuffed by NBC correspondent Richard Engel, who called it an “oversimplification” and “wildly off-base” during an appearance on MSNBC.
The U.S. has a partner in Yemen’s government which it aids with attacks on terrorists in hard-to-reach places. In Somalia, U.S. special forces seize various opportunities to target a small group of extremists similar to al-Qaida. The U.S. forces also rely on a cooperative government.
“It’s not at all the situation we are seeing in Iraq and Syria,” Engel said, reporting from the Iraqi city of Erbil.
Engel went on to explain: ISIS is made up of a large force of tens of thousands of fighters, controlling an area he said was approximately the size of Maryland with at least 8 million residents in that area.
“It’s much more akin to regime change than it is to wading back and picking targets with allied forces,” Engel said of the mission against ISIS. “They are not comparable at all.”
And Engel said the U.S. doesn’t exactly have an ideal partner on the ground — not even in the Iraqi Security Forces, and certainly not in Syria. The Iraqi army has been heavily depleted over the last few months and reconstituted with Iranian advisers and ground forces. And many Sunni villagers, he said, are “afraid” of the Iraqi army.
“They don’t want the Iraqi army to come into their villages. So we talk about a partner on the ground that we are going to team up with to rid Iraq of ISIS. Well, that partner on the ground, in many cases, is a reason that many people support ISIS in this country.”
Engel subsequently made many of the same points on his Twitter feed:
Here’s the full video of Engel’s appearance along with an MSNBC panel:
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