- The Washington Times
Saturday, September 20, 2014

Two former defense secretaries who served under President Obama are now criticizing his latest strategy to combat Islamic State militants.

Former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta told CBS Evening News on Friday that the terrorist group rose to power because the U.S. pulled out of Iraq too quickly and waited too long to act in Syria.


“I really thought that it was important for us to maintain a presence in Iraq,” Mr. Panetta said in an interview set to air on “60 Minutes,” CBSreported Friday.

Mr. Panetta said the entire national security team urged Mr. Obama to give more support to rebels fighting in Syria against Bashar al-Assad.

“The real key was how can we develop a leadership group among the opposition that would be able to take control. And my view was to have leverage to do that, we would have to provide the weapons and the training in order for them to really be wiling to work with us in that effort,” Mr. Panetta said, CBS reported.

Mr. Panetta’s predecessor, former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, also criticized the president’s strategy saying that air strikes will not solve the problem.

“The reality is, they’re not gonna be able to be successful against ISIS strictly from the air, or strictly depending on the Iraqi forces, or the Peshmerga, or the Sunni tribes acting on their own,” Mr. Gates told “CBS This Morning” on Wednesday. “So there will be boots on the ground if there’s to be any hope of success in the strategy. And I think that by continuing to repeat that [the U.S. won’t put boots on the ground], the president, in effect, traps himself.”

Mr. Gates also said that Mr. Obama’s goal to “degrade and destroy” Islamic State militants is unclear.

“I’m also concerned that the goal has been stated as ‘degrade and destroy’ or ‘degrade and defeat’ ISIS. We’ve been at war with Al Qaeda for 13 years. We have dealt them some terrible blows, including the killing of Osama bin Laden. But I don’t think anybody would say that after 13 years we’ve destroyed or defeated Al Qaeda. So I think to promise that we’re going to destroy ISIS or ISIL sets a goal that may be unattainable,” Mr. Gates said.


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