President Barack Obama pauses as he speaks at the Global Health Security Agenda Summit, Friday, Sept. 26, 2014, in the South Court Auditorium of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the White House complex in Washington. The president said that in an interconnected world, outbreaks of deadly viruses like Ebola have the potential to affect every nation. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
Carolyn Kaster—AP
By Sam Frizell
September 28, 2014

The U.S. underestimated the threat the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) posed in Syria and Iraq, President Obama conceded in an interview that will air on 60 Minutes Sunday, and overestimated the ability of the Iraqi army to secure their country.

“[Director of National Intelligence James Clapper] has acknowledged that I think they underestimated what had been taking place in Syria,” Obama said.

“Essentially what happened with [ISIS] was that you had al Qaeda in Iraq, which was a vicious group, but our Marines were able to quash [it] with the help of Sunni tribes,” Obama went on. “They went back underground, but over the past couple of years, during the chaos of the Syrian civil war, where essentially you had huge swaths of the country that are completely ungoverned, they were able to reconstitute themselves and take advantage of that chaos.”

When asked about comments by the Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, who has said the U.S. overestimated the ability and will of the Iraqi military to fight the extremist group, Obama said, “That’s true,” Mr. Obama said. “That’s absolutely true.”

Obama had already admitted that the rise of ISIS took the U.S. by surprise. “I think that there is no doubt that their advance, their movement over the last several months has been more rapid than the intelligence estimates and I think the expectations of policymakers both in and outside of Iraq,” he said in an August statement.

 

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