WHITE HOUSE - The White House says President Barack Obama has full confidence in the U.S. intelligence community and its handling of the fight against Islamic State militants. The comments come after the president said the United States underestimated the rise of the extremist group, particularly in Syria.
When asked if the Islamic State’s control of so much territory took him by surprise, Obama did not mention any miscalculation on his part. Instead, he told CBS’ 60 Minutes that his director of national intelligence, James Clapper, underestimated what had been taken place in Syria, namely that the instability of the country’s civil war had created a “ground zero for jihadists.”
During Monday’s press briefing at the White House, Press Secretary Josh Earnest said the underestimation of the Islamic State or ISIL’s capabilities was not limited to U.S. intelligence or the president.
“Everybody was surprised to see the rapid advance that ISIL was able to make from Syria across the Iraqi border and to be able to take over such large swathes of territory in Iraq, [it] did come as a surprise," he said. "That’s something that the president has said many times."
The White House spokesman said the president has complete confidence in Clapper and the intelligence community’s ability to meet and mitigate the threat posed by the Islamic State - pointing to the success of U.S. airstrikes in Iraq and Syria.
During the 60 Minutes interview that aired Sunday, Obama also acknowledged that the United States had overestimated the ability of Iraqi forces to combat the extremist group.
A point repeated by Earnest.
“Predicting the will of foreign security forces to fight for their country is difficult. This is something that Director Clapper himself has acknowledged. What we are focused on is making sure that the president has the intelligence he needs to build and lead an international coalition take the fight to ISIL," he said.
And that fight is expected to take some time, as the United States focuses on an air campaign that the president says will hopefully give Iraq space to build unity among Iraqi soldiers who have been reluctant to pick up arms against Islamic State militants.