President Obama, during an interview broadcast Sunday, largely blamed the United States’ intelligence community for giving an incorrect assessment of the capabilities of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
“Our head of the intelligence community, Jim Clapper, has acknowledged that, I think, they underestimated what had been taking place in Syria,” Obama said on CBS’s "60 Minutes."
That, along with Syria’s civil war, allowed ISIS to regroup and recruit fighters from all over the world, including Europe, the United States, Australia and the Muslim world, Obama said in an excerpt from the interview. The full interview with Steve Kroft will air Sunday night.
“And so this became ground zero for jihadists around the world,” he said of Syria.
“In some cases, you have old remnants of Saddam Hussein’s military that had been expunged from the Iraqi military, which gave them some traditional military capacity and not just terrorist capacity,” he said.
Obama’s remarks served as an acknowledgement that the United States, in recent years, has been largely unaware of the power behind ISIS, which has been characterized as a terrorist group with some qualities of state-backed military forces.
The president said subsequent intelligence has helped inform the military on the kind of force it must use to fight ISIS.
But it has also taught intelligence officials to be wary of similar situations to Syria’s civil war and the possibility of creating extremist groups.
“This is one of the challenges that we're going to have generally is where you've got states that are failing or in the midst of civil war, these kinds of organizations thrive,” he said.
Obama also admitted that the United States overestimated the willingness of allies, such as Iraq, to join in the fight against ISIS, reflecting recent comments by Clapper.