WASHINGTON — Two long-awaited reports came to the Pentagon this week, neither offering good news for U.S. strategic policy.
One, by the Defense Department’s inspector general, said the abrupt withdrawal of U.S. forces from northeastern Syria and the follow-on invasion by Turkish troops has created an opening for ISIS to stage a bloody comeback.
The second, by the Defense Intelligence Agency, said Iran’s military has continued to increase its efficiency and ability to deploy forces and air assets beyond its borders in support of allies across the Middle East in the wake of civil wars that have destabilized the region.
Among other things, that report said that Iran is heeding lessons learned from conflicts in Syria, Iraq, and Yemen where its forces are combating ISIS militants and propping up proxy forces in the region. It also said Iran is seeking to increase its support of U.N. international peacekeeping operations as a means to build legitimacy and potentially to “develop expeditionary-like capabilities through operations other than war.”
The two reports were released during a full week for Pentagon officials as they grabbled with personnel testifying before the House committee holding an impeachment inquiry, a breakdown in talks with South Korea over financial reimbursement for the U.S. troop deployment in that nation, and harsh exchanges between Defense Secretary Mark Esper and his Chinese counterpart during a regional meeting of defense ministers in Bangkok.
The DIA report on Iran noted that the end of the nuclear deal with Tehran — precipitated by the U.S. exit from the treaty — means the arms embargo against Iran will end October 2020.
That will permit Tehran to purchase new advanced weapon systems from foreign entities to modernize its armed forces. Atop its list are systems it cannot build itself, such as modern fighter aircraft and battle tanks, the report said. Iran is already discussing military hardware purchases from Russia and China.
The inspector general’s report also used DIA analysis to project the future of ISIS and said, in part, that exploited the Turkish incursion and subsequent drawdown of U.S. troops to reconstitute capabilities and resources within Syria and strengthen its ability to plan attacks abroad.
According to the DIA, ISIS is also in a strong position to get through the death of its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and have “continuity of operations, global cohesion, and at least its current trajectory.”
The week started with challenges of a more internal nature with President Trump pardoning — over the Pentagon’s wishes — three U.S. service members who have been accused or convicted of war crimes.
And the Pentagon announced that a second audit of the Department had been completed and – like the first one last year — it failed. Just not as badly.
“We made progress in our priority areas while focusing on the importance of sustainable solutions,” Elaine McCusker, the Pentagon’s acting comptroller, said in the late Friday news release. “But as expected, we will receive an overall disclaimer again this year.”
That translates to they were faults found in the systems that were audited.
Among the positives: auditors found no evidence of fraud for the second straight year. They also turned up what McCusker called “completeness” of major military equipment inventories — meaning all major defense items are where they were supposed to be.