A top reporter on Islamic State (ISIS) recounted Wednesday how she initially bought the 2012 Obama narrative that al-Qaida “was in disarray,” only to realize through her own reporting that it was totally wrong.
Rukmini Callimachi recalled to Wired Magazine how she discovered a trove of al-Qaida documents after the 2013 liberation of Timbuktu, Mali, and saw how al-Qaida’s senior management was controlling minute details on the ground in Mali from thousands of miles away. Callimachi recalled that just a year earlier, “the administration’s narrative was that they had defeated this terrorist group,” elaborating “the analysis was wrong.”
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Callimachi also said why she, like many other reporters, had bought and repeated the line from the administration.
From Wired (emphasis ours):
Look, when I found those documents in Mali, the last Obama election had just happened and so had the killing of Osama bin Laden, which was obviously a very big deal. What was coming out of Washington was that we had decapitated the snake, that without top-down control, al Qaeda is in disarray. Like everybody else, I bought it. I wrote a bunch of stories that essentially rephrase that line, because that’s what officials who seemed well informed were telling me. But in Mali I realized how wrong they were, because I’m sitting there holding letters from the general manager of al Qaeda to some dude in Mali—letters that were couriered across the desert, across the ocean from Yemen. And this is an organization that has no control over its affiliates?
Obama’s reelection year was a period of relative quiet in the war on radical Islamic terrorism. Iraq was in a period of relative quiet, the Syrian civil war was in its infancy, and Libya had not yet fully disintegrated as a functioning state. President Barack Obama ended the U.S. combat mission in Iraq and pointed to the relative quiet as a sign that his decision was justified. U.S. forces under command of Army Generals David Petraeus and Ray Odierno, crushed al-Qaida in Iraq into a nascent organization with little capability by 2010. Obama and his intelligence services did not understand in the interim of 2010-2014 that al-Qaida was reconstituting into what is known today as ISIS.
Obama’s withdrawal reduced U.S. insight into Iraq’s security posture, where sectarian Iraqi prime minister was purging the Iraqi army of Sunni military commanders and isolating Sunni’s throughout Iraq. Al-Qaida seized upon this discontent to reestablish its ties in the Sunni community and re-up its terrorism capabilities. In 2013, the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) warned that al-Qaida “is an extremely vigorous, resilient, and capable organization.”
At the time, Callimachi made her own realization.
“Al Qaeda had created a structure that was meant to regenerate itself and no longer be dependent on just one person. And that’s exactly what happened,” she told Wired.
ISW further warned, “AQI is no longer a small cadre based around a single leader, but rather an effective reconstituted military organization operating in Iraq and Syria.” AQI used 2013 to capture its capital in Raqqa, and when it seized the second largest city in Iraq it declared an Islamic Caliphate and changed its named to ISIS.
ISIS uses its caliphate in Iraq and Syria to inspire a jihadist movement across the globe. ISIS now has active affiliates in a dozen countries, and uses the internet to proliferate its propaganda in the west. Callimachi highlighted the danger of ISIS to Wired saying, “The ideology is now a living, breathing thing, even more than it was at 9/11, because of Twitter and other modes of social media.”
Today the Obama administration has a new narrative. The administration defines success against ISIS in terms of territory seized in Iraq and Syria. Obama,speaking at the Pentagon on Thursday, said ISIS had not won “a strategic victory” in over a year. ISIS continues to inspire attacks throughout the western world, and on Wednesday Callimachi revealed ISIS has an elite branch whose sole purpose is to plant hundreds of would-be terrorists in the west.