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

Anna MulrineThe Christian Science Monitor

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.”