The former U.S. Army general who orchestrated the 2007 surge into Iraq that effectively allayed the last great bout of sectarian violence there said Monday he could have foreseen the rise of an al Qaeda-inspired insurgency movement currently seizing control of Syria and northern parts of Iraq.
Retired Gen. David Petraeus - who stepped down from his post as CIA director in 2012 after news surfaced that he was carrying on an extramarital affair with his biographer - explained at the 2014 Aspen Ideas Festival that he believes the gruesome conflict unfolding at the hands of militants with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) was by no means without warning.
"I think people who have watched this closely - and I've been one of them - have seen this coming," he told CBS News' "Face the Nation" host Bob Schieffer during a moderated discussion. "There have been camps that have been established out just across the border in Syria. You could see the designs; you could hear what they said; you could see the increasing terrorist violence.
"...So this was something you could see coming," Petraeus went on. "But what I think did surprise people a bit, even though we knew about the circumvention and the [Iraqi] chain of command and the replacing the commanders, was how those commanders acted. Some of them literally got on helicopters and flew out before the battle, which obviously is a breaking of that all-important trust between leader and led."
Analysts have predicted the factionally roused bloodletting could devolve into a significant threat to not only global security but U.S. counterterrorism efforts in the years ahead. Petraeus agreed it has the potential to become "a big deal" for the West, but cautioned the U.S. against becoming militarily involved even as more and more foreign nationals join the ISIS militia fighters bearing down on Baghdad.
"We've postured a huge amount of forces," Petraeus said. "I do know there are 35 to 40 sorties per day of unmanned and manned, and some of those are now armed, and Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance missions, we are developing the intelligence picture that is crucial if you're actually going to take kinetic action. It will have to, understandably, be precise.
"We should be very careful, though, not to become the Air Force for one side in a sectarian civil war," he went on. "Rather, what we need to do is support a government of Iraq that meets the goals established by Grand Ayatollah Sistani, the cleric of Najafs looked to by the majority of the Shia population in Iraq."