On a rainy day in September 2014, President Obama paid a visit to U.S. Central Command () at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida for a briefing from General Lloyd Austin.
Among the topics was the training and equipping of fragile Iraqi security forces to stop the explosive growth of ISIS. The cost of the program was to be $1.2 billion.
After the hour-long briefing, the president
addressed the troops. “I just received a briefing from General Austin and
met with your commanders, met with representatives from more than 40
nations,” he said. “It is a true team effort here
But at the time, .
Critical assessments of the Iraqi security forces were regularly being altered by top intelligence brass. Words like “slow,” “stalled,” and “retreat” were changed to “deliberate” and “relocated.” This had the effect of painting a rosier picture in final reports delivered to General Austin and his staff.
But it didn’t stop there. In one instance, CENTCOM’s director of intelligence, Major General Steven R. Grove, blocked a negative assessment of Iraq’s military from the President’s Daily Brief, a top secret intelligence summary viewed only by the president and his closest advisers.
On Feb.19, 2015, the Pentagon’s defense intelligence agency concluded Iraqi security forces wouldn’t be ready to retake Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, before the end of the year. In Tampa, CENTCOM’s Iraq analysts agreed.
But according to sources, General Grove ordered the assessment kept out of the president’s brief until after his boss, General Austin, testified to Congress about the Iraqis’ progress. In that testimony, Austin made the case for an additional $715 million for the program.
To stall the negative assessment from getting to the president, CENTCOM senior staff asked for revisions, and on March 3rd, 2015 Austin told Congress the train and equip strategy was working -- and that ISIS was on the run.
“ISIL is losing this fight,” he said. “We’re about where we said that we would be in the execution of our military campaign plan.”
Last Fall, after the Pentagon began its investigation into, President Obama laid out his expectation that intelligence never be distorted.
“We can’t make good policy unless we have good, accurate, clear-eyed, hard-headed intelligence,” he said.
General Austin retired earlier this year as CENTCOM commander, but gave this statement to CBS News:
“As a senior military commander, I always made it very clear that I expected transparent and unvarnished intelligence assessments. Those assessments represent one important aspect of what are a number of factors used by leadership to understand the situation on the ground and make appropriate decisions regarding operations and application of available resources. I did not in this instance, specific to the capability of the Iraqi Security Forces in 2015, nor any other instance direct any member of the CENTCOM staff to adjust intelligence products or delay their delivery, nor would I have tolerated such actions.”
General Grove declined to comment. He was rotated out of his position as CENTCOM intelligence director this past May. The inspector general’s investigation is ongoing.