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Image: Pentagon
An aerial view of the Pentagon building in Washington on Dec. 26, 2011.Dan De LUCE / AFP - Getty Images file

Why did the White House close the Pentagon's Defeat ISIS Task Force?

We're left with a development that pretends the ISIS threat is gone, empowers Trump loyalists at the Pentagon, and undermines the Biden administration.


Two weeks ago, Marine Gen. Frank McKenzie, commander of U.S. Central Command, said short-term ISIS threats have clearly diminished, but the long-term threat remains real. In remarks to the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations, the general who oversees U.S. military operations in the Mideast pointed specifically to those displaced by years of war in Iraq and Syria.

"Today, across vast swaths of Syria and Iraq, the systemic indoctrination of [internally displaced persons] and refugee camp populations who are hostage to the receipt of ISIS ideology is an alarming development with potentially generational implications," McKenzie said, adding, "If we don't address this now, we're never really going to defeat ISIS."

Twelve days later, the New York Times reported that the Trump White House has fired Christopher Maier, the Pentagon policy official overseeing the military's Defeat ISIS Task Force, disbanded his office.

In a statement late Monday, the Pentagon said that the acting defense secretary, Christopher C. Miller, had accepted Mr. Maier's resignation and that his duties would be folded into two other offices that deal with special operations and regional policies. Those offices are led by Ezra Cohen-Watnick and Anthony J. Tata, two of the Trump appointees who have been promoted in the recent purge.

It's a story with multiple angles. For example, there are all kinds of unanswered questions about the post-election personnel purge the Department of Defense -- including the ouster of former Defense Secretary Mark Esper -- and the temporary installation of presidential loyalists in key positions.

Indeed, the Times' report specifically referenced the newly increased influence of Ezra Cohen-Watnick, a former aide to Michael Flynn who's suddenly serving as the undersecretary for intelligence at the Pentagon, and Anthony Tata, a former Fox News regular and right-wing conspiracy theorist, who couldn't be confirmed to a DOD post in a Republican-led Senate, and who's perhaps best known for having described Barack Obama as a "terrorist leader."

Making matters just a little worse, there are practical consequences to the demise of the Pentagon's Defeat ISIS Task Force. From the Times report:

When Mr. Maier's team was disbanded, they were in the midst of answering dozens of questions from the incoming Biden administration about the status of terrorist threats, relations with allies and counterterrorism missions. Now team members will be scattered across the vast Pentagon bureaucracy or returned to their home agencies. Whether deliberate or not, the move by the newly promoted Pentagon leadership to eliminate that central hub will almost certainly slow the flow of counterterrorism information to Biden transition aides in the coming weeks, several officials said.

What we're left with is a White House development that pretends the ISIS threat is gone, empowers dubious Trump loyalists at the Pentagon, and undermines the Biden administration before it can even begin.