(CNSNews.com) – President Obama’s decision to ignore his generals’ recommendations and withdraw U.S. forces from Iraq, leaving behind a power vacuum that is being exploited by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), is “probably the greatest military blunder the world will ever know,” Lt. Col. Allen West (Army-Retired) told CNSNews.com.
Last week, Obama admitted at a G-7 summit in Germany that the U.S. still lacks a "complete strategy" for training Iraqi forces to defeat ISIS.
But West, who served in Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm, says that the commander-in-chief needs to admit he made a mistake before he can turn the volatile situation in Iraq around.
“And I think one of the most important things is the president needs to stand up and be forthright and say he got it wrong. That’s the start to having an effective strategy, is admit that he had it wrong in the first place... Getting it wrong is a president that probably made the greatest military blunder that the world will ever know,” the former congressman said.
“We can’t put the genie back in the bottle, but the Obama administration should have listened to [Army] Gen. [Lloyd] Austin when he was the operational commander on the ground. He requested between 10,000 to 12,000 troops as a residual force. The result is that President Obama based his national security strategy on campaign promises and not on the reality on the ground. Right now, President Obama needs to listen to his generals and we need to understand how we can truly get in and defeat ISIS.”
CNSNews.com asked West what he thought were the chances that Obama would admit he made a strategic mistake in Iraq.
“Zero, because we’re dealing with an intransigent ideologue,” he replied.
“So there is no strategy that talks about diplomatic pressure, there is no strategy that talks about how we economically isolate ISIS, there’s no strategy to talk about on the ground how we will be able to – on a multiple front now, not just in Iraq, not just in Syria, but now we know also in Libya – how we’re going to be able to defeat the Islamic State. “
Obama’s latest plan to send 450 American troops to Iraq is “the equivalent of putting a band-aid on a sucking chest wound,” added West, who is now president and CEO of the National Center for Policy Analysis (NCPA).
“First of all, it is not a strategy,” he told CNSNews.com. "You’re just sending another 450 troops in there and it’s a band-aid, it’s a façade of pretending to do something.”
West pointed out that ISIS is currently operating in the open with little resistance. “When you look at these pictures of ISIS, and the fact they are having daytime parades through Ramadi, or they’re transiting through these cities in broad daylight, not a cloud in the sky, something is wrong,” he said.
“We’re running anywhere from 14 to 20 air sorties a day. That’s not even anemic, that is non-existent. We know that there are pilots that are complaining about not being able to drop their ordnance and many times they return with a full load.”
“The rules of engagement are horribly restrictive. And it seems to me that we have an operation that is being run out of the White House. And the last time we saw this level of oversight from the White House during a combat engagement, which is exactly what is happening in Iraq, it was during the Johnson administration in Vietnam, where they were approving bombing targets,” West told CNSNews.com.
“So what is the command and control structure in Iraq?” he asked. “No one is divulging that. We have a two-word phrase in the military that we hate to use, but this is what it seems to be, and it’s called mission creep, where you just continue to throw troops into the cauldron with no definitive national security strategic level guidance and definitely not any operational guidance."
“From my experience in the military, I know how this system works,” he continued. “The United States Central Command is responsible for this area of operations, and they have planners. And I guarantee you they have what is known as ‘con plans’ (contingency plans). All you have to do is pull down a contingency plan, and you start looking at what do we need to do to update that, and you present it so that it can be turned into a contingency operation. But it seems that we have a White House that does not want to support any of these plans that are being presented."
Instead of listening to his military advisers, “the president unfortunately threw the Pentagon and threw our military planners under the bus at the G-7 conference,” he added.
West does not believe that ISIS is too strong to defeat. “But it’s going to take a holistic approach. We have to realize that this is an ideological battle. We have to be able to leverage information systems against them to defeat their propaganda. We have to be able to cut off their recruiting efforts. The United Nations report from two weeks ago said that they had grown by 70 percent in the past nine months, and they’re recruiting in 100 different countries. So we need to cut off that pipeline.
“We have to be able to isolate ISIS so that it can begin to die on the vine. And the only way you do that is by leveraging your diplomatic power, leveraging your information power, leveraging your economic power, but most importantly, you’re going to have to go in there on the ground, root them out - and I’m going to say what needs to be said – you have to kill them.
“Where is our dominant air power to preclude them from having any type of large convoy movements, to include these convoys of the captured American and Iraqi Army equipment that are moving openly in the desert going from city to city to take them over?” he asked.
On Tuesday, “we had multiple bombings in Baghdad, 140 Iraqis that were killed. How many of those bombings were going on in 2009, 2010? We got down to pretty much zero. So we have created a vacuum and we allowed ISIS to take Ramadi, and now they’re able to use that as a staging base to launch these bombing strikes into Baghdad. And so we have got to be able to take effective offensive action against them on the ground.”
“What we need is a commander-in-chief who is able to give clear and concise guidance as far as the measures of effectiveness and the end-state results that he wants to see on ISIS. And then you call a meeting with the heads of state in that area, and talk about the things that you want to achieve, and this is the commitment you’re willing to make.
“I keep hearing other people throwing out these large numbers. That’s not what we need. If we had just done what the generals had recommended, you know, 10,000 to 12,000 troops, and combine that with indigenous forces that we have on the ground, we’ll be fine.”