ON-Lion Letter

Some have claimed that ISIS is on the defensive inside Iraq and Syria.  A defensive strategy, however, is not a sign of organizational weakness, but rather a sign that ISIS intends to preserve its holdings in Iraq and Syria and keep its claim to a caliphate, according to a May report from the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) in Washington, D.C.  ISIS's defensive strategies include expanding elsewhere in the Middle East and North Africa, while also maximizing combat power and future opportunities to launch offensives inside Iraq and Syria.  Iraq and Syria are the physical foundation for ISIS's expanding caliphate.

The U.S. must recognize that its policy of defeating ISIS is insufficient, says ISW's The ISIS Defense in Iraq and Syria:  Countering an Adaptive Enemy.  The U.S. and other anti-ISIS actors are facing a new environment in 2015, in which the underlying assumptions that allowed the U.S. to promote limited wars and surgical counter-terrorism strategies are no longer valid.  Policymakers must now make strategic-planning decisions assuming that disorder in Syria and the fragility of Iraq's security will continue into the future.  This strategic inflection requires that the U.S. reconcile its policy of defeating ISIS with the absence of a regional policy to stabilize the Middle East region.

The report was authored by ISW research director Jessica Lewis McFate, a former U.S. Army intelligence officer.

McFate believes the only way to defeat ISIS, which is necessary for U.S. national security, is to guarantee a ground force that will occupy, secure, and rebuild Syria, and Iraq to a lesser extent.  More-limited solutions are insufficient to shape ground conditions that promote stability and reduce the opportunity for groups like ISIS to remain.

Partnership is also essential, she finds, because the U.S. is no longer a legitimate ally in the eyes of many populations in the region.

The Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation in Milwaukee supports ISW.

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