The United States has been combating the Islamic State since 2014 in Iraq and Syria as well as in other locations around the world. This Sunni Islamist insurgent and terrorist group still controls large parts of Iraq and Syria, has established enclaves in Libya, Afghanistan and other parts of the world, and has been able to mount or inspire terrorist attacks in Europe, the United States, and other countries. The U.S. policy towards ISIS has adapted over the past few years in an effort to weaken the group and prevent future attacks in Europe, the United States and around the world.
Although the U.S. led coalition in the Middle East (as well as the Kurds, Shia militia groups, Iraqi Army, rebel Syrian groups, etc.) has succeeded in reducing the size of the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq – both in numbers of its fighting force and in land area held – there is much more still to be done. The group still receives support from segments of the Sunni population in the area due to the underlying political disputes stemming from the actions of the Iraqi and Syrian governments. While the Islamic State is ever-so slowly being degraded on the battlefield it still has the capability to project terrorism beyond the Middle East with ‘returning fighters’, ‘lone wolves’, and other supporters.
The United States is attempting to combat the Islamic State on a number of fronts – and the U.S. policy towards ISIS has adapted and morphed over time. Most visible are the military actions taken in Iraq, Syria, and now in Libya. Not well-known are the military operations conducted by the United States in eastern Afghanistan against the Khorasan Province of the Islamic State. Of course, there are the occasional special operations missions, drone attacks, and intelligence operations that take place in other areas of the world that don’t see much exposure on the news front.
The ‘train and equip’ efforts of the United States in Iraq and Syria over the past few years have yielded mixed results. The CIA and special operations attempts to field rebel Syrian forces to fight ISIS have seen some embarrassing moments. One can only shake one’s head in amazement with the news of General Austin (former CENTCOM commander) briefing Congress on the status of U.S. trained and equipped rebel Syrian groups, of Jordanian military officers miss-routing weapons for the Syrian rebels, or the many pieces of military equipment provided to the Iraqi army that end up in Shia militia or ISIS fighters possession.