Former US defence chief Leon Panetta sees 30-year ISIS war, blames Obama

Turkish army tanks take up position on the Turkish-Syrian border near the south-eastern town of Suruc in Sanliurfa province Oct 6, 2014. The fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group will be difficult and could last decades
Turkish army tanks take up position on the Turkish-Syrian border near the south-eastern town of Suruc in Sanliurfa province Oct 6, 2014. The fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group will be difficult and could last decades due to decisions made by US President Barack Obama, former Pentagon chief Leon Panetta has said. -- PHOTO: REUTERS 

WASHINGTON (AFP) - The fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group will be difficult and could last decades due to decisions made by US President Barack Obama, former Pentagon chief Leon Panetta has said.

"I think we're looking at kind of a 30-year war" that could extend to threats in Libya, Nigeria, Somalia and Yemen, Mr Panetta told USA Today in a story published on Monday.

Mr Panetta, a respected policymaker who served under Mr Obama, blamed the challenges on decisions the president made over the past three years.

Among those decisions, he cited Mr Obama's failure to push the Iraqi government hard enough to allow a residual US force to stay in the country after troops withdrew in 2011, saying that created a security "vacuum." The former defence secretary also pointed to Mr Obama's rejection of advice in 2012 from Mr Panetta and then-secretary of state Hillary Clinton to begin arming Syrian rebels fighting against President Bashar al-Assad.

"I do think we would be in a better position to kind of know whether or not there is some moderate element in the rebel forces that are confronting Assad," Mr Panetta said.

And Mr Panetta said Mr Obama lost credibility when he warned Mr Assad not to use chemical weapons against his own people and then failed to act when the Syrian leader crossed that "red line" last year.

Mr Panetta says Mr Obama now has an opportunity to "repair the damage" by showing leadership after having "lost his way" in the fight against the radical group that has seized chunks of territory in Iraq and Syria.

The former Pentagon chief was speaking ahead of the release of his new book, "Worthy Fights: A Memoir of Leadership in War and Peace," set for Tuesday by Penguin Press.

USA Today said that Mr Panetta is explicitly critical of Mr Obama in his book, writing that his "most conspicuous weakness" was "a frustrating reticence to engage his opponents and rally support for his cause." The president too often "relies on the logic of a law professor rather than the passion of a leader," the former defence chief added, saying that approach means Mr Obama "avoids the battle, complains and misses opportunities."

At times, Mr Obama "gets so discouraged by the process" that he sometimes stops fighting, Mr Panetta told USA Today.

Even before its publication, the book has already drawn the ire of the White House and State Department.

"I'm finding that former administration officials, as soon as they leave write books, which I think is inappropriate," Vice President Joe Biden told students at Harvard University on Friday. "At least give the guy a chance to get out of office." But Mr Panetta also expressed hope Mr Obama would change course during his last two years in office and recover from his mistakes.

"My hope is that the president, recognising that we are at a kind of critical point in his administration, will take the bit in his teeth and will say, 'We have got to solve these problems,'" Mr Panetta said.