Petraeus: ISIS war progress 'inadequate'

Petraeus: ISIS war progress 'inadequate'

Former CIA Director and retired four-star Army Gen. David Petraeus on Tuesday described progress in the war against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) as "inadequate."  

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"An impressive coalition has been assembled, key ISIS leaders have been killed or captured, and support for local forces in Iraq and Syria has helped roll back ISIS in certain areas," he testified at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing. 

But, he added, "Some elements of the right strategy are in place, but several are under-resourced, while others are missing. We are not where we should be at this point." 

The former top commander in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars pushed back against recent assessments by top military officials that it was a total stalemate.

"The tactical stalemate is actually a fairly dynamic stalemate," he said. "There is a lot of movement. We are rolling back ISIS in certain places, inflicting very heavy casualties on them."

The hearing, on U.S. policy in the Middle East, comes as the war effort against ISIS has run into difficulties. In Iraq, a campaign to retake Ramadi has not gone as quickly as U.S. commanders have hoped, and a program to train and equip moderate Syrian rebels has faced a troubled and slow start. 

To complicate matters, Russia has begun to surge military aircraft and assets into a western airfield to shore up President Bashar Assad, an ally, as the U.S. demands for Assad to go. 

And the Pentagon's inspector general and members of Congress are investigating U.S. Central Command, the military command in charge of the war, for allegedly altering intelligence assessments to paint a rosier picture of the war. 

Petraeus, who is credited with turning the tide of the Iraq War, said "in Iraq, we have halted and reversed ISIS's momentum in some areas. But we have seen gains by ISIS in others, such as Ramadi." 

He said he recommended increased support for the Iraqi Security Forces, Sunni tribal forces and Kurdish peshmerga, and exploring embedding American Joint Tactical Air Controllers with "select Iraqi units" to improve coalition airstrikes in support of those units. 

He also recommended examining whether U.S. roles of engagement for precision airstrikes, which seek to avoid the potential of a single civilian casualty, are too restrictive. 

He said he would not recommend embedding U.S. advisers with Iraqi forces at the battalion level. 

Petraeus also said it is misleading to believe there is "no military solution" in Syria, which he called a "geopolitical Chernobyl." 

He recommended asking Assad to stop using barrel bombs — barrels packed with shrapnel dropped from the air — against opposition forces and civilians, and implementing a no-fly zone if he refused. 

"We could, for example, tell Assad that the use of barrel bombs must end — and that if they continue, we will stop the Syrian air force from flying. We have that capability," he said.  

"Our military can figure out how to stop Bashar's air force from flying," he said. 

He said he would also support the establishment of "enclaves" in Syria protected by coalition airpower — effectively, safe zones where moderate Sunni forces could be supported, additional forces could be trained, internally displaced persons could find refuge and the opposition could organize. 

"An enclave gives them hope," Petraeus said. "They would be in the south as well as the north."  

He also warned that Russia's actions to bolster Assad should only spur more support for the moderate Syrian opposition, and that it should not push the U.S. into a coalition with Russia and Assad against ISIS. 

To counter Iran, Petraeus recommended increasing U.S. involvement in the Middle East, bolstering allies and clearly stating to Iran that the United States will use military force if it moves toward obtaining highly enriched uranium. 

"Such a declaration would carry maximal credibility if issued by the president and Congress together," he said. 

"Beyond those actions, we should understand that the most immediate test for the credibility of our policy will be what we do in Iraq and Syria," he said. 

"The outcome in those countries will be the basis for the judgments of friend and foe alike about our steadfastness and competence in thwarting ISIS, other extremists, and Iran's quest for hegemony," he said. 

It was Petraeus's first appearance before Congress since resigning as CIA director in 2012 after admitting to having an extramarital affair. He began his testimony with a public apology for the affair.