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Former CIA Chief Morell: Obama’s ISIS Strategy Is Not Working

Former CIA Director Michael Morell says President Obama’s ISIS strategy is not working, and must become more aggressive after the Nov. 13 attack in Paris.

“This strategy, this policy, is not achieving its aims,” Morell told Politico magazine adding, “I don’t see how anyone could come to any other conclusion.”

That’s at odds with statements this week by President Obama’s Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes. He told CNN’s Jake Tapper Sunday that “What we’ve seen, Jake, is there are elements of the strategy that, when they’re properly resourced, they work in rolling back ISIL.”

Morell offered his own solution to the problem which he outlined as a two-part, more aggressive approach. “One of the lessons we’ve learned from the last 25 years of terrorism is that groups that have safe havens are able to develop external attack-capabilities in a way that groups that don’t have safe havens are not,” Morell told Politico. “So we need to find a way to squeeze them significantly in their safe haven.”

The other part of Morell’s approach would be more frequent strikes against ISIS leaders. “You have to have a military and intelligence approach to removing leadership that results in rapid, frequent removals from the battlefield,” he told Politico. Morell added that successful strikes on ISIS leaders would need to come a dozen times as frequently as they currently are saying, “It’s got to be one, two a week, not just one or two every three or four months.”

Pressed to explain what he would do short of putting infantry boots on the ground, Morell called it a false choice.

I do not think the president is saying that, but I think it’s a false choice between what we’re doing today and U.S. boots on the ground during the fighting. That’s how it’s being painted, but there is actually a significant spectrum between those two options, and I think there’s a lot of room to go to right on that spectrum without getting to U.S. boots on the ground. One example: I see significant value in putting a much larger number of U.S. special forces guys on the ground very close, if not in front lines, whether with the Kurds or Iraqis, etc.—to both provide advice and to call much more precision airstrikes.

Despite his effort to avoid indicting the President directly, Morell offers a fairly accurate summary of Obama’s statements at a press conference in Antalya, Turkey Monday.

Asked by Margaret Brennan of CBS News whether it was time to change his strategy, the President replied, “in the aftermath of Paris, as I listen to those who suggest something else needs to be done, typically the things they suggest need to be done are things we are already doing.”

Then the President added, “The one exception is that there have been a few who suggested that we should put large numbers of U.S. troops on the ground.”

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