Fight against terror

Military distorted ISIS intel, says US panel

WASHINGTON • Officials from the United States Central Command altered intelligence reports to portray a more optimistic picture of the war against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) than events on the ground warranted, a congressional panel said in a report just issued.

The interim report, from a task force established by the Republican chairmen of the House Armed Services Committee, Intelligence Committee and Defence Appropriations Sub-committee, found "widespread dissatisfaction" among Central Command intelligence analysts, who said superiors were doctoring their assessments of American efforts to defeat the ISIS terrorist group.

Central Command, known as Centcom, is the military headquarters in Tampa, Florida, that oversees US military operations across the Middle East and Central Asia.

"Intelligence products approved by senior Centcom leaders typically provided a more positive depiction of US antiterrorism efforts than was warranted by facts on the ground and were consistently more positive than analysis produced by other elements of the intelligence community," a news release about the report said.

"What happened at Centcom is unacceptable - our war fighters suffer when bad analysis is presented to senior policymakers," said Republican Representative Ken Calvert of California.

"The leadership failures at Centcom reach to the very top of the organisation."

The 10-page report detailed persistent problems in 2014 and 2015 in Central Command's description and analysis of American efforts to train Iraqi forces.

Although it offers no definitive evidence that senior Obama administration officials ordered the reports to be doctored, it describes analysts as feeling as though they were under pressure from Centcom leaders to present a more optimistic view of the threat posed by ISIS.

"Throughout the first half of 2015, many Central Command press releases, statements and congressional testimonies were significantly more positive than actual events," the report said.

"For example, a Centcom official stated publicly that a major military assault to take back Mosul could begin as early as April or May 2015." Mosul, Iraq's second-largest city, remains under the control of ISIS.

Republicans created the task force after learning that analysts had raised concerns that intelligence about the Middle East- based terrorist group was being manipulated. The report released on Thursday is to be followed up by more extensive findings as the investigation continues.

The investigation has repercussions beyond the question of whether the American-led bombing campaign in Iraq and Syria is succeeding. But last year's allegations called into question how much President Barack Obama could rely on Central Command for honest assessments of military operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and other crisis spots.

The critiques on ISIS intelligence mirror disputes of more than a decade ago, when a Centcom intelligence analyst, Mr Gregory Hooker, wrote a research paper saying that the administration of President George W. Bush, over many analysts' objections, advocated a small force in Iraq and spent little time thinking about what would follow the 2003 invasion. Mr Hooker also played a key part in the insurrection over ISIS intelligence.

Last year, officials said, Mr Hooker's team concluded that despite public statements to the contrary, air strikes against ISIS-held refineries had not significantly weakened the terrorist group's finances because it had built makeshift refineries to sell oil on the black market. But the finding was not distributed outside Central Command, the New York Times reported in September.

NEW YORK TIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 13, 2016, with the headline 'Military distorted ISIS intel, says US panel'. Print Edition | Subscribe