Administration lies about degrading Islamic State leadership exposed

Eli Lake and Josh Rogin writing in Blomberg have been able to cut through the propaganda of the Obama administration and reveal the true state of our war against the leadership of Islamic State.

We haven't touched them.

The war against the Islamic State has killed thousands of fighters and even some mid-level battlefield commanders, but the organization's senior leadership and nerve center remain largely untouched, according to U.S. military and intelligence officials.

These officials and other experts tracking the terror group tell us that the Islamic State's Shura and Sharia councils, the advisory bodies that help inform the major decisions of the group's leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, remain intact, notwithstanding one close call in November for Baghdadi. Although airstrikes and military campaigns have killed several regional administrators and designated “governors,” the Islamic State has quickly replaced them and maintains its command-and-control capabilities.

This assessment of progress against the Islamic State differs sharply from public statements by top Obama administration officials as recently as last month, including Secretary of State John Kerry and retired General John Allen, the president's special coordinator for the coalition against the Islamic State. In February, Allen said that half the group's leaders in Iraq had been killed.

Speaking at the Munich Security Conference also in February, Kerry expanded that claim to account for the group’s leadership in Syria as well.

“We’ve disrupted their command structure, undermined its propaganda, taken out half of their senior leadership, squeezed its financing, damaged its supply networks, dispersed its personnel, and forced them to think twice before they move in an open convoy," Kerry said.

Kerry and Allen haven’t since repeated that claim about the group’s senior leadership. U.S. military officials tell us no consensus intelligence estimate supports the claim that half the Islamic State's leadership has been eliminated.

When asked about Kerry's 50 percent claim, Army Captain John J. Moore, a spokesman for U.S. Central Command, told us: "We currently don't have a percentage attached to that statistic."

Yes, truth is the first casualty of war and the Obama administration certainly wouldn't be the first to fudge the numbers. But there is a line between propaganda to confuse the enemy and lies to confuse the American people. And this administration is guilty of some real whoppers.

Experts told us Kerry’s estimate is tough to understand, because defining the Islamic State’s “leadership” is subjective. Cole Bunzel, a Princeton University scholar of Near Eastern Studies who closely follows Islamic State, said its leadership structure is opaque, and not much is known about the true membership of its Shura and Sharia councils, which play an important role in the organization. When the Islamic State has announced major decisions, such as its decision to expand into Syria or declare itself a caliphate, said Bunzel, it has made clear that one or both of those councils were consulted by Baghdadi.

"I am very skeptical of the claim that the coalition has killed 50 percent of the leadership of the Islamic State, whatever that means,” said Bunzel.

The war against IS in Iraq is technically going better. The shia militias and Kurdish peshmerga look like they're ready to retake Tikrit, which would be the first major victory of the war. But empowering the shias in Sunni territory opens a can of worms that creates tensions between the two sides and could lead to serious complications down the road.

It's not helpful that we're pretending to degrade Islamic State's leadership. They know the score and take our lies to be a sign of weakness. Killing off the leadership will not win the war, however. That task will be left to boots on the ground - ours or the coalition.

Eli Lake and Josh Rogin writing in Blomberg have been able to cut through the propaganda of the Obama administration and reveal the true state of our war against the leadership of Islamic State.

We haven't touched them.

The war against the Islamic State has killed thousands of fighters and even some mid-level battlefield commanders, but the organization's senior leadership and nerve center remain largely untouched, according to U.S. military and intelligence officials.

These officials and other experts tracking the terror group tell us that the Islamic State's Shura and Sharia councils, the advisory bodies that help inform the major decisions of the group's leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, remain intact, notwithstanding one close call in November for Baghdadi. Although airstrikes and military campaigns have killed several regional administrators and designated “governors,” the Islamic State has quickly replaced them and maintains its command-and-control capabilities.

This assessment of progress against the Islamic State differs sharply from public statements by top Obama administration officials as recently as last month, including Secretary of State John Kerry and retired General John Allen, the president's special coordinator for the coalition against the Islamic State. In February, Allen said that half the group's leaders in Iraq had been killed.

Speaking at the Munich Security Conference also in February, Kerry expanded that claim to account for the group’s leadership in Syria as well.

“We’ve disrupted their command structure, undermined its propaganda, taken out half of their senior leadership, squeezed its financing, damaged its supply networks, dispersed its personnel, and forced them to think twice before they move in an open convoy," Kerry said.

Kerry and Allen haven’t since repeated that claim about the group’s senior leadership. U.S. military officials tell us no consensus intelligence estimate supports the claim that half the Islamic State's leadership has been eliminated.

When asked about Kerry's 50 percent claim, Army Captain John J. Moore, a spokesman for U.S. Central Command, told us: "We currently don't have a percentage attached to that statistic."

Yes, truth is the first casualty of war and the Obama administration certainly wouldn't be the first to fudge the numbers. But there is a line between propaganda to confuse the enemy and lies to confuse the American people. And this administration is guilty of some real whoppers.

Experts told us Kerry’s estimate is tough to understand, because defining the Islamic State’s “leadership” is subjective. Cole Bunzel, a Princeton University scholar of Near Eastern Studies who closely follows Islamic State, said its leadership structure is opaque, and not much is known about the true membership of its Shura and Sharia councils, which play an important role in the organization. When the Islamic State has announced major decisions, such as its decision to expand into Syria or declare itself a caliphate, said Bunzel, it has made clear that one or both of those councils were consulted by Baghdadi.

"I am very skeptical of the claim that the coalition has killed 50 percent of the leadership of the Islamic State, whatever that means,” said Bunzel.

The war against IS in Iraq is technically going better. The shia militias and Kurdish peshmerga look like they're ready to retake Tikrit, which would be the first major victory of the war. But empowering the shias in Sunni territory opens a can of worms that creates tensions between the two sides and could lead to serious complications down the road.

It's not helpful that we're pretending to degrade Islamic State's leadership. They know the score and take our lies to be a sign of weakness. Killing off the leadership will not win the war, however. That task will be left to boots on the ground - ours or the coalition.