On Tuesday, 8 September, the Modern War Institute (MWI) hosted a War Council multi-disciplinary panel to discuss U.S. military efforts against ISIS. I was fortunate enough to be one of the speakers and panelists. As with past MWI events, the panel was well attended with well over 100 cadets, staff, and faculty gathered to join in a professional dialogue about one of the most significant threats facing the world today. To approach this complex issue, the panel included faculty from the Defense and Strategic Studies (DSS) program, the Department of Social Sciences, the Combating Terrorism Center (CTC), and the Department of History.
MAJ Adam Scher from the Department of Social Sciences was the first to speak. MAJ Scher spent last summer attached to the 82nd Airborne Division and partnered with the Iraqi Ground Forces Command in Iraq. Drawing on his recent firsthand experience, he discussed the current geographic areas controlled by the multiple tactical combatants across Iraq and Syria, including ISIS, Sunni Militia Groups, Shia’ Militia Groups, the Iraqi Army, the Peshmerga, and the key contested areas. He also discussed how U.S. forces are currently supporting the Iraqi Army in its counteroffensive against ISIS through building partner capacity and the advise and assist mission.
Following MAJ Scher’s remarks, Muhammad al-`Ubaydi discussed some of the CTC’s recent research on ISIS-controlled areas in Iraq and Syria post June 2014. He provided a detailed look at where ISIS currently maintained a presence as well as where it controlled individual towns and cities. He also discussed areas where ISIS gained or lost terrain over the past year.
To help us understand the historical context of the conflict, CPT Matt Cohen from the Department of History traced the geopolitical development of the region from the Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916 through the Arab Uprisings of 2010 and 2011. He discussed the ethnic tensions and deep rooted animosities that developed from Sykes-Picot through the French Mandate and post the French Mandate (1946-present) during the United Arab Republic (1958-1961), the Hafez al-Assad regime (1970-2000), the Bashar al-Assad regime (2000-present), and the rise of ISIS.
Finally, I wrapped-up the remarks portion from the DSS perspective by discussing the strategic challenge facing America. I focused on what I perceive as a lack of a clearly defined strategic objective in the region. While there has been considerable debate in the country on how to most effectively defeat ISIS, I believe ISIS is only one part of the regional landscape. Our strategic challenge is figuring out how the U.S. can use its military capability to not only achieve a military victory, but to also translate that military victory into political success – protecting our national interests in a long term and sustainable way.
After each panelist’s opening remarks, we took questions from the audience to continue the discussion. After the event Cadet Alec Stewart, a DSS major, commented, “When I stepped into the War Council, I felt like I was in the situation room receiving a captivating briefing about ISIS from four professional speakers.” That is, of course, what we strive for with each event.