Iraqi soldiers fire a rocket toward Islamic State militants on the outskirts of the Makhmour south of Mosul, Iraq, March 25, 2016

Rolling Back the Islamic State in the Levant (ISIL)

Iraqi soldiers fire a rocket toward Islamic State militants on the outskirts of the Makhmour south of Mosul, Iraq, March 25, 2016

Photo by Azad Lashkari/Reuters

Violent jihadist groups are orchestrating or inspiring a growing number of terrorist attacks across the world, sowing disorder and testing governments’ ability to protect their citizens. The Islamic State in the Levant (ISIL)—also commonly referred to as the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), the Islamic State (IS), and Daesh— is the most active group among Salafi-jihadists, waging a terrorist and insurgent campaign across the Middle East, Africa, and Asia. ISIL has also orchestrated or motivated bloody attacks in the United States, France, Belgium, Australia, Bangladesh, and Indonesia—countries far from its nerve center in Syria and Iraq.

ISIL Support and Opposition on Twitter

A 2016 RAND report drew on publicly available Twitter data to better understand the networks of ISIS supporters and opponents on Twitter. Drag the slider to view the geographic location of ISIL opponents (green), and ISIL supporters (red).

Map of ISIL Opponents on Twitter, from Examining ISIS Support and Opposition Networks on Twitter (RR-1328)
Map of ISIL Supporters on Twitter, from Examining ISIS Support and Opposition Networks on Twitter (RR-1328)

From Examining ISIS Support and Opposition Networks on Twitter (RR-1328)

Why Is the Issue Important for the Incoming Administration?

There has been an uptick in radicalization in the U.S. as ISIL and other groups have conducted an aggressive social media campaign and exploited local grievances. In 2014, the FBI arrested a dozen alleged ISIL supporters based in the U.S.—that number jumped to five dozen in 2015. Overseas, ISIL has expanded its affiliate network by co-opting allies in Yemen, Libya, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Algeria, the Caucasus, Afghanistan, and Nigeria, along with informal allies in Somalia, the Philippines, Bangladesh, Indonesia, and Tunisia. Defeating ISIL will require moving it from a quasi-state to an insurgency to a suppressed terrorist movement that controls little or no territory or population. The new administration will need to re-examine the effectiveness of U.S. strategy, policies, tools, and authorities overseas to counter groups like ISIL. Key issues include:

  • Whether and how to cooperate with Russia in ending the civil war in Syria and in targeting ISIS and al Qaeda affiliates in Syria
  • Whether to expand, contract, or redirect U.S. military and intelligence assets in and around Iraq, Syria and Libya
  • The combination of American and international counterterrorism, counterinsurgency and stabilization operations needed to prevent ISIL or other extremist groups from reemerging in Syria, Iraq ,and Libya once Mosul, Raqqa, Sirte, and other ISIL strongholds are liberated
  • How to curtail ISIL and other violent extremists from access to cyberspace, including the Internet and social media
  • How to balance issues of privacy and free speech with the need to secure access to digital information on violent extremist activity
  • How to design and conduct more effective domestic and international programs to counter ISIL’s efforts to recruit new adherents, inspire acts of terror, and secure sources of revenue.
Marines from the 1st Marine Division conduct an inner cordon patrol at Al Asad Air Base, Iraq, Oct. 23, 2015

Marines from the 1st Marine Division conduct an inner cordon patrol at Al Asad Air Base, Iraq, Oct. 23, 2015

Photo by Akeel Austin / U.S. Marine Corps

RAND's Continuing Research on International Terrorism

RAND has conducted research on terrorism since the 1970s and on insurgency since the 1960s. In 1962, RAND hosted the first worldwide symposium on counterinsurgency. In the early 1970s, the first federal government body formally charged with fighting terrorism asked RAND for analytical support. The early and continuous investments in both fields have allowed RAND to address pressing challenges across the globe for over five decades.

In Their Own Words

Lessening the Risk of Refugee Radicalization

Senior political scientist Barbara H. Sude discusses how radicalization happens within refugee groups. What are the contributing factors, and how can the U.S. government work to mitigate these factors and safeguard the homeland?

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