The United States’ adversaries in Syria are prioritizing confronting the United States over ISIS, which will give the group space to grow its capabilities, rest, and refit. Iran, Russia, and Syria have deployed forces along the line of control separating parts of Syria held by the regime and US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). Russian forces are also harassing US aircraft, which draws limited Russian assets away from counter-ISIS operations. CTP has identified four possible scenarios that will affect ISIS's ability to reconstitute itself in Syria: Iran, Russia and Syria reprioritize ISIS; Russia and Iran continue coordinated coercive pressure aimed at forcing a US withdrawal from Syria; Iran chooses to target US forces or the SDF using explosively formed penetrators (EFP); and Iranian- and regime-backed forces attack SDF territory.
Middle East Security Project
Iraq and Syria. ISIS has coerced greater support from the population and expanded attack zones along the Euphrates River, which will allow it to rebuild some capabilities over time. Iranian- and regime-backed activity inadvertently helps ISIS rebuild by undermining Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) control. ISIS and Iranian- and regime-backed forces will be able to exploit the degradation of SDF control along the Euphrates to strengthen their capabilities.
Somalia. Al Shabaab is increasing the rate and severity of its attacks in northeastern Kenya and against Ethiopian forces in Somalia, likely to boost recruitment and local support in Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia. Al Shabaab may also intend to undermine the ability of Ethiopia and Kenya to effectively participate in an offensive against the group in southern Somalia.
Pakistan. The political crisis in Pakistan is exacerbating divisions within the Pakistani military. The Pakistani military fired three senior army commanders and disciplined 15 officers on June 26 over their actions during widespread protests in May. Divisions in the Pakistani military could weaken Pakistan's counter–Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) operations as the TTP seeks to expand into new parts of the country.
Afghanistan. TTP is using support zones in Afghanistan to support attacks inside Pakistan. The Taliban government is unlikely to change its policies toward harboring foreign fighters in Afghanistan. The Taliban’s continuing failure to prevent the TTP from using Afghanistan to support its campaign against the Pakistani state will strain the relationship between the Taliban government and Pakistan.
Position: Middle East Security Program Researcher
Andie Parry is a Researcher with ISW's Middle East Security Program. Andie is a recent graduate from Pitzer College where she specialized in Middle East Studies and International Politics. Andie began as an intern in 2023 on the Axis of Resistance portfolio. Prior to her involvement with ISW, she worked with the US Department of State on understanding the China-Middle East nexus and on improving women's involvement in security policy.
Position: Middle East Security Studies Program Researcher
The Institute for the Study of War (ISW) and the Critical Threats Project (CTP) at the American Enterprise Institute conducted an intensive multi-week planning exercise to frame, design, and evaluate potential courses of action that the United States could pursue to destroy the Islamic State of Iraq and al Sham (ISIS) and al Qaeda in Iraq and Syri
ISIS is using its foreign fighters and safe haven in Iraq and Syria to execute a terror campaign within Europe. ISIS’s March 22 Brussels attacks support a larger strategy to punish, destabilize, and polarize the West. ISIS will likely continue to attempt attacks in France and Belgium in 2016, using its large Francophone foreign fighter population and local supporters.
A new map from ISW showing the viewshed for Palmyra as of March 2016. Regime troops continue their attack and advance on the city and its environs.
The United States faces a geostrategic inflection in Syria that it has not yet fully recognized. The “cessation of hostilities” declared on February 11, 2016 permits Russia and the Assad regime to continue targeting U.S.