U.S. intelligence and defense officials warned President Barack Obama about the growing threat of the Islamic State for more than six months, but the White House was reluctant to take any action against the terror group, even as it swept across Iraq and Syria and ultimately beheaded two American journalists, sources with knowledge of the briefings told TheBlaze.
The situation is poised to change as Obama prepares to lay out his strategy for combating the Islamic State to the American people Wednesday night. Obama has directed $25 million to be sent to the Iraqi government for the purposes of fighting the Islamic State and is expected to call for arming Syrian opposition forces.
In this June 16, 2014 file photo, demonstrators chant pro-Islamic State group slogans as they carry the group's flags in front of the provincial government headquarters in Mosul, 225 miles northwest of Baghdad. (AP)
"It wasn't as if [the White House] was not briefed on these issues and the growing concern about the organization," said a U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly. "Senior intelligence officials had stressed their concerns to the president but he has been indecisive and no action was taken. We still need to take action against ISIL but it comes late and with a heavy price."
A Western official who has worked in Iraq on terror-related issues said there was concern in May that the Islamic State was seizing territory and threatening civilians, and that "Western nations needed to recalibrate their assessment" of the danger the group posed.
But the White House wasn't listening, a Pentagon official said, because "the assessment [on Al Qaeda and the Islamic State] didn't fit the administration's narrative."
Instead, the officials charge, the Islamic State was allowed to grow from a brutal terror organization into a de facto state because Obama was indecisive and failed to heed warnings.
TheBlaze asked the White House in June whether the Obama administration had a strategy for dealing with the Islamic State. National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden declined to answer, instead referring all questions to U.S. intelligence community representatives.
Obama's own admission last month that "we don't have a strategy yet" to handle the Islamic State was met with sharp criticism, prompting the White House to attempt to walk back and change that perception. Appearing on NBC's "Meet the Press" over the weekend, Obama said the strategy will involve an "economic element," "a political element" and a "military element."
“What I want people to understand, though, is that over the course of months, we are going to be able to not just blunt the momentum of ISIL," Obama said. "We are going to systematically degrade their capabilities. We’re going to shrink the territory that they control. And ultimately we’re going to defeat them."
Ahead of Obama's address to the nation, "I hope he fights the urge to tell the American people what he's not going to do," Steven Bucci, a retired Special Forces commander who served as assistant secretary of defense under Donald Rumsfeld, told TheBlaze. "He should lay out a plan for what we should be doing and what he will do."
Jim Phillips, a senior terrorism and Middle East analyst with the conservative Heritage Foundation, said defeating the Islamic State is only one part of a complex problem that cannot be dealt with solely by targeting its leaders.
Phillips said defeating the ideology itself is imperative, and that war with radical Islam "will go on for decades, if not centuries."
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