Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates told NBC in an interview aired this morning that the U.S. is currently not winning against the Islamic State.
“I think that we have made some steps to contain it, but at the same time in a way ISIS has sort of reached the natural limits of where they would have sympathetic people, the Sunni areas of northern and western Iraq in particular,” Gates said. “But I think that the air strikes have contributed to containing them, but we’re a long way in my view from being in a position to roll them back or push them out of Iraq.”
He called the choice between the current administration strategy and a large-scale ground invasion of Iraq “a false set of options.”
“I think that there are other options, and I think that it will be very difficult to roll ISIS back without forward air controllers and spotters without embedded trainers with the Sunni tribes, with the Iraq army, with the Peshmerga, the Kurds. And I think some limited use of Special Forces,” Gates said.
“But what I’m talking about here is potentially a few hundred troops, not thousands of tens of thousands. And I think that the president has set an ambitious and I think undercurrent circumstances unrealistic goal when he talks about our intent being to destroy ISIS. With the means that he has approved so far, I think that’s an unattainable.”
The onetime secretary in the Bush and Obama administrations added “we’ve set unrealistic goals for ourselves when we say we’re going to destroy the Taliban, we’re going to destroy al-Qaeda.”
“I mean, we have been after al-Qaeda with all of the resources of the American military and intelligence community for 14 years now. And we haven’t destroyed. So I think a different kind of strategy in terms of how do we — first of all how do we contain them and then how do we limit their ability to carry out these attacks and these atrocities and to occupy territory. It seems to me that particularly with respect to ISIS our objective should be to deny them the ability to hang on to territory because that gives them a base from which potentially to plot against us and against Western Europe,” he said.
Gates recommended that everybody take “a step back and realize the complexity and historical magnitude of the challenge that we’re facing.”
“You have what appears to be the beginnings of the falling apart of the entire state system in the Middle East,” he said. “…We have a half different countries including major ones like Iraq and Libya where the central government does not control the country.”