WATCH: Pentagon Had No Plan for When ISIS Took Mosul, Dempsey Says

May 26, 2015
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by Patrice Taddonio Assistant Director of Audience Development

For months, the advance across Iraq and Syria of the brutal terrorist group known as ISIS has dominated U.S. and world headlines. In the past two weeks, ISIS militants have seized two more major cities: Ramadi in Iraq, and Palmyra in Syria.

But less than a year ago, U.S. officials had underestimated ISIS’s strength.

In fact, when ISIS overran Iraq’s second-largest city of Mosul in June of 2014, many of them were blindsided — including Gen. Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Despite the fact that Fallujah had fallen to militants six months earlier, and that the Pentagon had been repeatedly warned that ISIS was on the march, Dempsey admits to FRONTLINE correspondent Martin Smith in tonight’s new documentary, Obama at War, that the Pentagon was unprepared when Mosul fell.

“For all the contingency planning that you routinely do here at the Pentagon, were there plans for how to react to the fall of Mosul to ISIS?” Smith asks.

“Well, no, there were not,” Dempsey tells Smith.

“Because — of course — so, look, there were several things that surprised us about ISIL,” Dempsey says, using another acronym for the group. “The degree to which they were able to form their own coalition, both inside of Syria and inside of northwestern Iraq; the military capability that they exhibited; the collapse of the Iraqi Security Forces …  Yeah, in those initial days, there were a few surprises.”

Watch the sequence from Obama at War — which also includes an exchange between Smith and former Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs Derek Chollet — below:

 

The extent to which the Pentagon was taken by surprise by Mosul’s fall is just one of the revelations in tonight’s new documentary — which traces the Obama administration’s ongoing struggle to deal with Syria’s civil war and the accompanying rise of ISIS.

For an in-depth look at the administration’s policy choices about Syria and Iraq from the Arab Spring onward, watch Obama at War tonight at 10 p.m. EST on PBS (check local listings).

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