ON-Lion Letter

In an attempt to paint a more-complete picture of the Islamic State (IS), a December report from the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point identifies key areas where the IS has shown strength, learning, and adaptation.  The Group That Calls Itself a State:  Understanding the Evolution and Challenges of the Islamic State also highlights key areas of weakness, mistake, and failure -- all the while cautioning that there is more to learn in each of these areas.

The report was researched and written by CTC director and West point assistant social-science professor Bryan Price, CTC research associate West Point assistant social-science professor Dan Milton, CTC research assistant Muhammad al-`Ubaydi, and CTC senior associate and West Point associate social-science professor Nelly LahoudThe Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation in Milwaukee substantially supports CTC.

The Group That Calls Itself a State's first section traces the historical evolution of the group, with an emphasis on the fact that well-executed design and an ability to take advantage of accidents led to its creation.  The second section provides a very brief and preliminary comparison of the IS to other prominent militant organizations against which the United States has fought -- al-Qa'ida and the Taliban. 

The third section outlines and explores the strengths and weaknesses of the IS as a whole, noting that its success comes from its ability to leverage all parts of its organization to achieve maximum gain.  This section also points out that, despite this success, the fact that the IS is attempting to operate across multiple functional areas will test the group's ability to adapt over time and will ultimately expose the group's shortcomings. 

The fourth and final section steps back to examine, at the strategic level, some of the challenges faced and opportunities available to those combating the IS.

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