The fight against the Islamic State (IS) in Syria and Iraq has captured the world’s attention. Thus far it has been a long, hard slog, with a variety of players and actors influencing the outcome. It is hard to envision how this all ends. However, there are those who believe they have a solution to the seemingly unsolvable situation in the Middle East and to defeating ISIS.

The Center for a New American Security (CNAS) has published its final report of the CNAS ISIS Study Group. The report proposes a strategy based on four key interlocking efforts; it then goes on to describe how those efforts can be applied region by region in the Iraq-Syria area of operations.

The ISIS Study Group was created by the CNAS in November 2015 to examine options for addressing the problems created by the Islamic State. The study group is comprised of a bipartisan set of foreign policy and national security experts, including high-ranking administration officials, former generals and ambassadors of the region, as well as journalists and other personnel. The purpose of the ISIS Study Group was to develop a holistic strategy to address the challenges represented by ISIS and to publish a report on this important topic.

The 68-page report has several parts, including an executive summary, five chapters, and a conclusion. Some of the findings published in the report are worth mentioning:

  1. The current approach by the United States relies too heavily on Kurdish and Shia forces, and has not built up sufficient Sunni forces to retake and hold ISIS territory
  2. There is a lack of embedded combat advisors supporting partners on the front lines
  3. The administration has demonstrated a hesitation to deploy additional troops to the region
  4. The administration has been seeking a political solution for the conflict in the west (Syria) while pressing for a military solution in the east (Iraq)

The report goes on to recommend four interlocking efforts:

  1. Build coherent regional armed opposition groups that can hold territory
  2. Increase U.S. military support to opposition groups
  3. Leverage U.S. investment on the ground into diplomatic influence with key external actors
  4. Re-establish legitimate and acceptable governance and negotiate a political end-state for the conflicts in Iraq and Syria

The report does acknowledge that “…the greatest risk is that this is a strategy that will take years to execute. During that time the dangers posed by ISIS will remain.” So the United States will have to ensure that other ISIS proto-states do not form up in other parts of the world in places like Libya, the Sinai, or Afghanistan.

Read the report “Defeating the Islamic State: A Bottom-Up Approach,” Center for a New American Security, June 16, 2016 here.