Pentagon probes claims of skewed ISIS reports

Officials accused of changing drafts to more optimistic account of progress of campaign

WASHINGTON • The Pentagon's inspector general is investigating allegations that military officials have skewed intelligence assessments about the United States-led campaign in Iraq against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) to provide a more optimistic account of progress, according to several officials familiar with the inquiry.

The investigation began after at least one civilian Defence Intelligence Agency analyst told the authorities that he had evidence that officials at US Central Command - the military headquarters overseeing the US bombing campaign and other efforts against ISIS - were improperly reworking the conclusions of intelligence assessments prepared for policymakers, including President Barack Obama, the government officials said.

Fuller details of the claims were not clear, including when the assessments were said to have been altered and who at Central Command, or CENTCOM, the analyst said was responsible.

The officials, speaking only on condition of anonymity about classified matters, said that the recently opened investigation focused on whether military officials had changed the conclusions of draft intelligence assessments during a review process and then passed them on.

The prospect of skewed intelligence raises new questions about the direction of the government's war with ISIS, and could help explain why pronouncements about the progress of the campaign have varied widely. Numerous agencies produce intelligence assessments related to the Iraq war, including the Defence Intelligence Agency, the Central Intelligence Agency and others.

Some senior US officials in recent weeks have provided largely positive public assessments about the progress of the military campaign against ISIS, a Sunni terrorist organisation that began as an offshoot of Al-Qaeda but has since severed ties and claimed governance of a huge stretch of land across Iraq and Syria.

Late last month, retired General John Allen - who is Obama's top envoy working with other nations to fight ISIS - told the Aspen Security Forum that the terror group's momentum had been "checked strategically, operationally, and by and large, tactically".

"ISIS is losing," he said, even as he acknowledged that the campaign faced numerous challenges - from blunting ISIS' message to improving the quality of Iraqi forces.

But recent intelligence assessments, including some by the Defence Intelligence Agency, paint a sober picture about how little ISIS has been weakened in the past year, according to officials with access to the classified assessments.

Meanwhile, Kurdish security forces yesterday launched a new offensive to free villages from ISIS militants in Iraq's northern province of Kirkuk, a Kurdish security source said.

The assault began in the early hours when Kurdish security forces, known as peshmerga, attacked a cluster of 13 ISIS-held villages south-west of Daqouq, a town located some 180km north of Iraqi capital Baghdad, the source told Xinhua on condition of anonymity.

NEW YORK TIMES, XINHUA

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 27, 2015, with the headline 'Pentagon probes claims of skewed ISIS reports'. Print Edition | Subscribe