ISIS’s rise was known for more than a year to anyone paying attention

Yesterday came word, through a former Pentagon official, that President Obama received detailed and specific intelligence about the rise of ISIS via the President’s Daily Brief for at least a year before the group took large swaths of territory beginning in June 2014. The former official told Fox News that the data was strong, and “granular” in detail. He added that a policy maker “could not come away with any other impression [than] this is getting bad.”

Yet in January, at least six months after these warnings began, Obama famously proclaimed ISIS “the jayvee.” And in recent weeks, the administration has expressed surprise at ISIS’s rapid series of successes in Iraq.

Actually, one didn’t need to read the President’s Daily Brief to know last year that ISIS was surging in Iraq. That information was publicly available. It even appeared on Power Line.

A year ago, I attended an AEI conference on the resurgence of al Qaeda in Iraq. This is the terrorist outfit that more recently has been called ISIS, ISIL, and the Islamic State, and that has been led throughout by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

Jessica Lewis of the Institute for the Study of War was a featured speaker at the conference. AEI handed out a report Lewis had prepared. It’s not so subtle title was “Al Qaeda in Iraq is Resurgent.”

Lewis, a former intelligence officer for the U.S. Army who was decorated for her service Iraq and Afghanistan, had been closely tracking the progress of al Qaeda in Iraq. Presumably, her former Army colleagues and other U.S. intelligence officials were doing the same sort of work. Their analysis would have been finding its way into the President’s Daily Brief.

Here are some of the points made by Lewis, as I highlighted them 50 weeks ago:

In mid-2012, with the war-weary U.S. out of the way, AQI organized an operation called the “Breaking the Walls” campaign. This campaign consisted of a series of 24 major vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (VBIED) attacks and eight prison breaks that, says Lewis, demonstrate the evolution of AQI’s military capability.

Since May 2013, AQI has consistently exceeded the number of VBIED attacks per month it conducted in June 2007, while sustaining operations in Syria as well. Meanwhile, its prison breaks have replenished AQI’s ranks and brought many of its best fighters back into the field.

The “Breaking the Walls” campaign culminated on July 21, 2013, when AQI successfully breached the prison at Abu Ghraib. 500 or more prisoners escaped. Most had been detained for terrorist activities.

Today, according to Lewis, “AQI an extremely vigorous, resilient, and capable organization that can operate from Basra to coastal Syria.” VBIED attacks require extensive planning and logistical structure. Thus, the wave of such attacks demonstrates “the development of a force-level planning effort within AQI’s military organization to orchestrate simultaneous attacks involving many cells.” To understand this capability is to appreciate the level of the threat AQI poses to the Iraqi state and, potentially, to U.S. interests.

Lewis notes that AQI’s expressed operational objectives to retake territory that it had formerly controlled in Iraq and to establish governance in these areas and in parts of Syria. It is succeeding in the north of Syria, over which there is little prospect that Assad will ever reestablish governance.

Once AQI establishes governance of a sizeable territory, it will have a base of operations from which to plan and launch attacks on U.S. interests and on our homeland.

Based on Lewis’ analysis and a conversation with a source in the intelligence community, I concluded: “Unless the U.S. is prepared to do more, both in Iraq and in Syria, AQI may find itself with a quasi-state similar to what the original al Qaeda had in Afghanistan pre-9/11.”

This reality was clear to those who were paying close attention to Iraq and even to those like me who were paying occasional attention to those paying close attention. Only a toxic combination of leftist ideology, wishful thinking, political expediency, and boundless arrogance could have caused Obama to miss it.

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