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After Altered Intel Allegations, Carter Demands Honest War Assessments

Ashton Carter at the Pentagon. DoD photo by R. D. Ward
Ashton Carter at the Pentagon. DoD photo by R. D. Ward

WASHINGTON -- Defense Secretary Ash Carter has reminded the Pentagon's senior intelligence corps that they are expected to give him their unvarnished views, amid allegations that the military command overseeing the war against the Islamic State distorted or altered intelligence assessments to exaggerate progress against the military group, officials said Thursday.

Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook said that after it was publicly disclosed last month that the Pentagon's inspector general was investigating allegations of skewed intelligence reports, Carter directed his top civilian intelligence officer to reinforce the need for honest assessments, including at Central Command, which oversees the war effort.

"Unvarnished, transparent intelligence is what this secretary expects on a daily basis," Cook said.

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Publicly, many senior civilian and military officials have said that while the counter-Islamic State fight is difficult and likely to drag on for years, the U.S.-led coalition is making significant progress against the militant group in both Iraq and Syria, where they control large swaths of territory.

Others have been more circumspect. For example, Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said while traveling in Europe this week that the war is "tactically stalemated."

A U.S.-led air campaign against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria has inflicted considerable damage, but the U.S.-trained Iraqi army has yet to recapture key cities lost during the past year, including Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province. Also, the U.S. has made little progress in training moderate Syrian rebels to form an effective ground force against the Islamic State.

Cook was asked Thursday whether Carter shares Dempsey's view that the war is stalemated.

"I don't know if he would use the exact words as Chairman Dempsey, but I think the secretary's been candid about the difficulties, how hard this fight's going to be, but that he does believe, ultimately, we're going to prevail, for a variety of reasons," Cook said. "He believes the strategy right now that is being employed is the right strategy."

Asked about Carter's level of concern that intelligence reports reaching his desk may have been improperly changed to inflate war progress, Cook said he would await the outcome of the inspector general's investigation, which was launched after an intelligence officer at Central Command lodged a complaint in July.

A report by the Daily Beast on Wednesday said more than 50 intelligence analysts at Central Command have formally complained that their reports on the Islamic State and al-Qaida's branch in Syria were being inappropriately altered by senior officials.

Cook said he could not confirm the report, and he would not say whether Carter would punish anyone found to have skewed intelligence assessments.

"I think we're going to wait to see where the IG's investigation goes," Cook said. "I don't want to prejudge the outcome of their investigation and whether or not they find anything like that has happened."

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