US is no safer after 13 years of war, a top Pentagon official says

The outgoing head of the Defense Intelligence Agency says that new players on the scene are more radical than Al Qaeda, and the core Al Qaeda ideology has lost none of its potency.

Susan Walsh/AP/File
Defense Intelligence Agency Director Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn (2nd from r.) was among the US intel chiefs testifying before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill last year.

The nation is no safer after 13 years of war, warns a top US military official who leads one of the nation’s largest intelligence organizations.

“We have a whole gang of new actors out there that are far more extreme than Al Qaeda,” says Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, which employs some 17,000 American intelligence collectors in 140 countries around the world.

That the United States is no safer – and in some respects may be less safe – even after two wars and trillions of dollars could prove to be disappointing news for Americans, noted the journalist questioning General Flynn at the Aspen Security Forum last week.

Still, Flynn was firm on that point. “Yeah, my quick answer is that we’re not,” he said. 

America is less safe today in large part because of the emergence of terrorist groups like the Islamic State, formerly know as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. The group is stoking regional wars in Syria and Iraq that will only continue to increase in complexity, Flynn said.

Then what about the claims from those within the Obama administration that core Al Qaeda is on the run? 

On this point, Flynn – a strong personality who is slated to retire from the US military next month after clashing with higher-ups in the intelligence community – took issue as well.

“We throw this phrase ‘core Al Qaeda’ out.” But rather than people, “core Al Qaeda” is an ideology, he said.

“I, you know, have been going against these guys for a long time. The core is the core belief that these individuals have – and it’s not on the run,” he added. “That ideology is actually, sadly, it feels like it’s exponentially growing.” 

The chaos and violence now reigning in Iraq after the Islamic State invasion points to a US intelligence failure, but, on the upside, it offers a key cautionary tale for Afghanistan, Flynn said.

“The speed that [ISIS] came into this northern city of Iraq, into Mosul, and they were able to, you know, kind of [cut through Iraqi security force defenses] like a hot knife through butter through really about four [Iraqi Army] divisions,” he said, “I would say that, yeah, that caught us – that level of speed that they were able to do that – caught us by surprise.” 

Iraq “blew it” by choosing not to sign a Status of Forces Agreement that would have kept US troops in the country longer, and Afghanistan is unlikely to make the same mistake, he added. 

Now, when it comes to Iraq, US troops are unlikely to have any desire to return to the country, he added. 

“I mean, we can only give so much. And nobody – no one in uniform – wants to say, ‘Oh yeah, I’m ready to go back.’ No way.”

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.