The Islamic State (ISIS)


The Islamic State, formerly known as the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (“Sham” is Arabic for the Levant) or Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), is a Sunni terrorist group which controls territory in eastern Syria and northwestern Iraq. The group recently claimed to have established a Caliphate, with Abu Bakr al Baghdadi as its Caliph. It was founded in early 2004 by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi to combat American and coalition forces and replace the newly establish Iraqi government with an Islamic state. Originally known as Jama’at Al-Tawhid Wa’al-Jihad, or The Organization of Monotheism and Jihad, it became the official al Qaeda affiliate in Iraq after Zarqawi swore loyalty to Osama bin Laden in late 2004. Severely weakened by American forces during the Surge, it has re-emerged as a significant fighting force fed by the sectarianism of the Malaki government and chaos of the Syrian civil war. In February 2014, al Qaeda disowned the group following a dispute with Jabhat al-Nusra, the Syrian al Qaeda affiliate. From its base in Iraq’s Anbar province, it has swiftly and dramatically consolidated power in Sunni-dominated areas on both sides of the Iraqi-Syrian border.


Iraq Requests More US Troops Ahead of Mosul Battle

Iraq has asked Washington to send additional trainers and advisers ahead of the battle to retake second city Mosul from the Islamic State group, the premier’s office said Wednesday. IS seized Mosul along with swathes of other territory in June 2014, but the country’s forces have since regained significant ground from the jihadists and are […]


ISIS Suspected of Mustard Attack Against US and Iraqi Troops

ISIS is suspected of firing a shell with mustard agent that landed at the Qayyara air base in Iraq Tuesday where US and Iraqi troops are operating, according to several US officials. The shell was categorized by officials as either a rocket or artillery shell. After it landed on the base, just south of Mosul, […]


Distrust, Uncertainty, Skepticism: US, Russian militaries Warily Prepare to Tag Team ISIS in Syria

The U.S. military is now committed to begin a first-of-its-kind joint military operation with Russia, mounting airstrikes against the Islamic State group in Syria. Yet its not clear what the military advantage will be for the U.S. ground-level operations against the Islamic State. “With respect to what the Russians might bring to this fight, I’m […]


Reconsidering Safe Zones in Syria

The situation in Syria remains bleak, with no end in sight to its five-year civil war. President Bashar Assad’s forces and their Russian and Iranian backers continue to lay waste to rebel-held territory, leaving the rebels with shrinking leverage to pressure the regime into a lasting political settlement. Meanwhile, the Islamic State (ISIS) holds key […]


The Saudi-led Coalition Is Not Ready to Fight the Islamic State

President Barack Obama and Defense Secretary Ashton Carter visited Saudi Arabia last week hoping to reassure nervous Gulf allies that American security commitments remain in force in the wake of last year’s Iran nuclear deal. In exchange, the White House was hoping to encourage the Gulf states to play a more active role in the […]


Israel Bolsters Its Sinai Border Amid ISIS Threats

Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi released an audio message this weekend threatening Israel with a devastating attack. The message was Baghdadi’s most direct warning yet against the Jewish state, but one that will not have come as a surprise in Jerusalem. Israel deems the group’s branch in Egypt’s neighboring Sinai Peninsula its most effective […]


Putin’s S-400 Power-Play in Syria

Russia is upping the ante in the Eastern Mediterranean in response to the downing of its fighter jet by Turkish F-16s last week. Russian President Vladimir Putin has deployed S-400 air-defense missiles in Syria and expanded fighter escorts for bombing operations. While Moscow has predicated its intervention in Syria on supporting the Bashar al-Assad regime’s […]


Should the U.S. Continue to Use Incirlik?

Turkey’s cabinet announced July 29 that the United States and coalition members targeting the Islamic State (ISIS) would be permitted to fly combat missions from Incirlik air base in south Turkey. This U.S.-Turkish facility is well positioned near the Syrian front, and offers the coalition greater tactical flexibility. It could certainly help in the effort, as […]


The Folly of Turkey’s Syrian Buffer Zone Plan

Ankara raised the prospect last weekend of a military operation to create a buffer zone along its Syrian frontier. While Turkey is officially part of a 60-nation coalition against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), this military initiative would instead be focused on a different threat: the Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (PYD) in Syria. […]


The Islamic State’s Growth in Libya

The Islamic State (ISIS) has made gains throughout Libya since fall 2014, when local Islamist forces pledged allegiance to the “caliphate.” This map tracks those gains as well as major attacks by the group. View full screen map here.


Defeating the Islamic State’s Suicide Drivers

The Pentagon announced last week that it will deliver 2,000 AT-4 anti-tank rockets to help Iraqi forces combat the Islamic State (IS), after the jihadist group seized Ramadi, the strategically important Anbar province capital. While not a sophisticated or expensive weapon, the AT-4 could prove a valuable addition to the arsenals of Iraqi ground forces […]


Washington’s Bad Military Bets in the Middle East

Last month, the Houthis took over Yemen, delivering a blow to Washington’s counterterrorism strategy, which held out Yemen as one of the few bright spots in an otherwise chaotic Middle East. Adding insult to injury, as Washington took steps to shutter its embassy earlier this month, the Houthis took all U.S. embassy vehicles parked at […]