Every major operation or campaign that the U.S. military conducts usually has an operational name. The current campaign against the Islamic State in Syria and Levant (ISIL) has been named Operation Inherent Resolve. ISIS emerged as a big threat in the summer of 2014. [1] It grew rapidly, feeding on the discontent of the Sunni populations of Syria and Iraq with their respective governments. In both countries, ISIS hijacked the rebellious anti-government movements by gaining popular support of Arab Sunnis or intimidating the population with terror tactics.

Operation Inherent Resolve

The United States and other countries were slow to respond to this threat – taking only measured, incremental responses that did not contribute to a diminishing of ISIS’s capabilities or ability to capture major cities in Iraq and Syria. In Iraq, the government security forces folded when attacked by ISIS; notably along the Euphrates and Tigris river valleys and the major city of Mosul. The ISIS advance in Iraq was finally halted by a combination of Kurdish forces (in the north), Shia militias (with some support from Iranian fighters), Iraqi SOF units, and U.S. airpower. In addition, the ability of ISIS to advance into areas where there were significant Shia residents was problematic.

Two years later it appears that ISIS is being dealt some significant setbacks – of note is the recapture of Ramadi and Fallujah by Iraqi government forces, once again led by Iraqi SOF aided by Coalition airpower and supported by Shia militia. In Syria, the government forces (fighting both ISIS and anti-regime groups) are making limited headway against the Islamic State, when they are not too busy attacking anti-regime forces. Certainly Coalition and Russian airpower, Hezbollah fighters, Kurdish forces (in northern Syria), Iran, and others are helping in the anti-ISIS fight in Syria. However, the anti-ISIS effort in Syria is far from coordinated. Syria, Iran, and Russia do not share the same interests as the U.S.-led Coalition – their main focus is fighting the anti-Assad forces.

The Coalition is providing funding, military equipment, and training to the Iraqi military. Train, equip, advise and assist teams from many countries are working with Iraqi SOF and conventional units. Nations from the Middle East, Europe, and around the world are engaged in the training effort. The Coalition’s main effort in Syria appears to be airstrikes against ISIS – many times in support of some of the non-government forces fighting ISIS. There is a limited training program for anti-ISIS groups conducted by the CIA and U.S. / Coalition SOF but the results of this effort has been mixed. Many times the objectives of the Syrian forces being trained are not aligned with the interests of the U.S. and other coalition nations. [2]

Latvian soldier trains Iraqi soldiers on SVD Dragunov sniper rifle.
Latvian soldier trains Iraqi soldiers on SVD Dragunov sniper rifle.

The Coalition, led by the United States, is composed of many nations.  The mission of Operation Inherent Resolve is to militarily defeat Da’esh (ISIS) in its operational area (Syria and Iraq) in order to enable whole-of-coalition governmental actions to increase regional stability. There are over 40 nations committed to Operation Inherent Resolve to varying degrees of support. Progress in Iraq has been slow but events appear to finally be moving in the right direction. The situation in Syria remains fluid and it is difficult to predict how that will all end.

[1] The Islamic State is referred to by the U.S. government as the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL) by the majority of the world’s media as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), and by Arab nations as Da-esh.

[2] While the U.S. and other Coalition nations are focused on degrading ISIS in Syria the Syrian groups that are receiving training, equipment, and funds from the U.S. are sometimes more interested in fighting the Assad regime . . . and sometimes . . . each other.