Lieutenant General Michael Flynn, the former commander of U.S. Special Forces in Afghanistan and Iraq told German newspaper Der Spiegel that strategic decisions by the administration of George W. Bush caused the creation and spread of ISIS throughout the Middle East, Raw Story reports.
In a candid interview with German newspaper Der Spiegel, Flynn admitted that the fall of Baghdad led to the creation of ISIS.
“It was a huge error,” Flynn said of the Iraq war. “As brutal as Saddam Hussein was, it was a mistake to just eliminate him. The same is true for Moammar Gadhafi, and Libya, which is now a failed state. The historic lesson is that it was a strategic failure to go into Iraq.”
In the aftermath of 9/11, Flynn said the American people let their anger take over and as a result the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan weren’t as thoroughly thought out as they should have been.
“When 9/11 occurred, all the emotions took over, and our response was, ‘where did those bastards come from? Let’s go kill them.’ Instead of asking why they attacked us, we asked where they came from.”
A monument to that strategic failure, Flynn said, is the fact that the head of ISIS, its chief commander, was once in U.S. custody but was set free because he was “not a risk.”
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the commander and figurehead of ISIS, was released from a military prison in 2004. Al-Baghdadi is now the self-proclaimed “Caliph” of ISIS. Flynn called him smart and vicious, a different breed from Al-Qaeda types like Osama Bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri.
“Bin Laden and Zawahiri used to sit in their videos, legs crossed, flag behind them, and an AK-47 in their laps,” Flynn said. They presented themselves as warriors, freedom fighters, front-line combatants in a war against Western influence. ISIS, he said, is a different animal entirely, but no less vicious.
Baghdadi, on the other hand, and his plans for ISIS are different. While terrorism continues to be the primary goal of ISIS, killing “infidels” and “westerners” in the name of his ideology and the scope of Baghdadi’s plans make him an altogether different sort of terrorist.
“Baghdadi brought himself to a mosque in Mosul and spoke from the balcony, like the pope, dressed in black garb. He stood there as a holy cleric and proclaimed the [ISIS] caliphate. That was a very, very symbolic act. It elevated the fight from this sort of military, tactical and localized conflict to that of a religious and global war,” Flynn described Bagdadi’s symbolic ascent to the top of ISIS leadership as an important indication that this is a different sort of fight, that the old tactics won’t work against ISIS.
Der Spiegel asked Lt. Gen. Flynn what would change for ISIS if Baghdadi were taken out, if he were assassinated like Osama Bin Laden, and Flynn’s response painted a grim picture.
“We used to say, we’ll just keep killing the leaders, the next guy up isn’t gonna be as good. That didn’t work out, because al-Baghdadi is better than Zarqawi, and Zarqawi was better than Bin Laden,” Flynn said.
ISIS grew out of an offshoot of al-Qaeda, and even with defections in recent months, the group continues to mount successful recruitment campaigns, which Flynn said are one of ISIS’ greatest strengths and one of the key innovations that Baghdadi brought to the table.
“Baghdadi is bringing in 1,500 fighters a month, from more than 100 nations,” Flynn said. He also noted that Baghdadi’s use of the Internet and social media are a big part of the reason ISIS has the reach that it does. Zarqawi, the former head of Al-Qaeda, Flynn said, was bringing in about a tenth of that number every month.
Der Spiegel asked Lt. Gen. Flynn about the inception and creation of ISIS, if the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan directly led to the creation of ISIS, and if he had any regrets regarding the U.S. invasion of Iraq.
“Yes, absolutely,” he said. “History will not be and should not be kind with that decision.”
[Photo by Getty Images]