In light of the news reports lately about doctored intelligence assessments regarding ISIS, I thought that a real assessment from a think-tank would offer some perspective on what exactly it is that we are facing with ISIS. And it is worse than you think. This isn’t a short read, so I’ve listed some of the highlights and key points here and linked the entire pdf file at the bottom.
Some of these points may shock you.
- ISIS intends to expand its Caliphate and eventually incite a global apocalyptic war.
- Few countries are willing or able to counter ISIS as a global phenomenon. No simulation participants took multifront action to limit ISIS’s regional expansion, even though most participants opposed ISIS. This was true even of al Qaeda.
- The United States does not have enough armed forces to undertake a multi-theater campaign to degrade and defeat ISIS on its own.
- Turkey, Russia, and Egypt each have a disproportionate ability to spoil or facilitate counter-ISIS strategies devised by the U.S.
- The U.S. risks strategic failure even if ISIS does not attempt coherent action across global fronts. The campaigns of ISIS’s affiliates and supporters across multiple regions may distract and divide the U.S.’s allies and resources, as may other conflicts such as the one in Ukraine.
The Interior Ring
The primary mission of ISIS on the Interior is aggressive defense. ISIS controls terrain in Iraq and Syria, and defends its zones of control against counter-attack. ISIS likely will retain Jordan, Turkey, and Lebanon as rear support zones in the near term.
The Near Broad Ring
Practically, the Near Abroad ring reflects the “Islamic lands” that ISIS intends to organize into its territorially contiguous caliphate.ISIS announced the creation of governorates, or wilayats in Algeria, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula in November 2014. ISIS also declared a wilayat in the “Khorasan,” or Afghanistan-Pakistan region in January 2015, added the Caucasus on July 23, and may add West Africa as well.
ISIS’s wilayats in Saudi Arabia and Yemen are likely to attack Shi’a populations and holy sites in order to incite regional sectarian war and create conditions conducive to its expansion.
ISIS’s global operations allow it to place stress on multiple states and international alliances at once.
The Far Abroad Ring
The primary mission of ISIS in the Far Abroad is disruption and preparation of the battlefield. ISIS is competing with al-Qaeda in the Far Abroad ring for leadership of the global jihadist movement. ISIS’s presence in Europe, the Americas, and Asia is less concentrated than in the Near Abroad, but ISIS nevertheless aspires to global subjugation of non-Islamic lands.
ISIS is executing a coherent global strategy across its Interior, Near Abroad, and Far Abroad rings. These parallel efforts give ISIS resiliency, and allow it to pressure adversaries from multiple directions. ISIS’s ability to act simultaneously across its geographic rings gives the organization an asymmetric advantage over the U.S.-led coalition. The coalition is focused on Iraq and Syria, and it is reacting disjointedly and ineffectively to ISIS’s activities in Libya, Egypt, Afghanistan, and other places. ISW’s wargame demonstrated how this failure enables ISIS to strategically outpace the U.S. and its allies.