Defeating ISIS shouldn’t be the only focus of the US

US intervention against ISIS should focus more on long-term security for Iraq and Syria.

This past week, the U.S. dropped the MOAB—the largest non-nuclear bomb—on ISIS fighters in Afghanistan. The attack is part of the U.S. strategy to focus on defeating ISIS first.  Further, a major operation conducted by Iraqi Security Forces to take back the city of Mosul is currently underway. Retaking Mosul—the second largest city in Iraq and strong regional hub for ISIS—has been a prime goal for eliminating ISIS from the region, but clearing out ISIS from the city cannot be our only goal. Our entire U.S. policy in Iraq and Syria should be focused on the long term security of Iraq and Syria, which necessitates a readjustment of our current intervention strategy.

The Institute for the Study of War reported that Neo-Baathist (the political party supported Saddam Hussein) groups that fought American forces in the insurgent period of the Iraq War are starting to reemerge. Currently, the U.S coalition is only focused on removing ISIS from Iraq and Syria. A new policy needs to counter these Sunni militia groups so that they will not be able to undermine the Iraqi state.

Despite suppression from ISIS, these groups are well organized and ready to reemerge. One group that we can expect to dominate the region when ISIS loses power is the 1920s Brigade. Regardless of ISIS’s domination of Iraq, it has published it’s own magazine for nearly a decade. Unfortunately for the Knight Errant, I was not able to review any of their articles, since it’s published entirely in Arabic. The 1920s Brigade has maintained significant terrorist networks and militant capabilities that will allow the threatening of the Iraqi State as ISIS loses territory; consequently U.S strategy should be re-focusing on disrupting the networks that allowed the 1920s Brigade to survive so far.

Our entire U.S. policy in Iraq and Syria should be focused on the long term security of Iraq and Syria, which necessitates a readjustment of our current intervention strategy.”

— Gus Beringer

A primary reason that these Neo-Baathists have survived so far is that they maintain multiple networks with other states and groups. Research has shown that the quantity not the quality of those connections matters most, a study published in International Studies Quarterly concludes that “Intergroup cooperation enables terrorist groups to attack more frequently and effectively. This, too, helps with mobilization of resources, reducing the likelihood of a group giving up or being defeated by the state.” Therefore, U.S military strategy must comprise of factors that focus on the elimination of terrorist networks that allow terrorist groups to operate; not solely focusing on ISIS. A report from Rand Corporation, a think tank that does research with the U.S Army, found that intelligence, law enforcement, and border security are the most important factors for disrupting militant networks. The United States must emphasize these factors to provide long term security to the United States and the Middle East.

As Iraqi Security Forces take back more and more territory from ISIS, it’s important not to be premature in our celebration. Providing long term security for Iraq matters more than just getting rid of ISIS in the short term. There are many facets of a strong approach to ISIS, but our strategy should a focus on a continued disruption campaign of re-emerging groups. Empowering the Iraqi military and government to combat insurgencies is paramount to the survival of the Iraqi State.