The Islamic State (Terrorist Organization)

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ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria), also known as ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant), is a Sunni jihadist group with a particularly violent ideology that calls itself a caliphate and claims religious authority over all Muslims. It was inspired by al Qaida but later publicly expelled from it. RAND terrorism experts have analyzed the group's financing, management, and organization; its savvy use of social media for recruitment and fundraising; and the instability that spawned the group as a regional problem in the Middle East.

  • 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

    Content

    How to Roll Back ISIL and Other Terrorist Threats

    Sep 30, 2016

    ISIL is the most active group among Salafi-jihadists, waging a wide campaign. Defeating the group will require moving it from a quasi-state to an insurgency to a suppressed movement that controls little or no territory or population.

  • U.S. soldiers execute a fire mission to support Iraqi security forces during the Mosul counteroffensive in northern Iraq, December 24, 2016, photo by 1st Lt. Daniel Johnson/U.S. Army

    Report

    Countering ISIL as a Transregional Threat

    Jan 31, 2017

    The U.S. counter-ISIL strategy must recognize the long-term nature of the global violent jihadi threat. U.S. diplomatic and military actions should focus on reducing the appeal of ISIL and disrupting the transregional network that supports it.

Explore The Islamic State (Terrorist Organization)

  • Posters of a boy, killed in Shi'ite-Sunni violence, displayed on his grave in Sanaa, Yemen, November 17, 2014

    Commentary

    The Tortured Roots of Sectarian Violence

    The recent increase of sectarian terrorism is best understood as a product of the ancient Sunni-Shiite divide, the growth of modern-day extremist groups, the Iranian-Saudi rivalry, and the growing phenomenon of fractured states.

    Dec 12, 2014

  • An explosion following an air strike in central Kobani, Syria, November 9, 2014

    Commentary

    NATO's Campaign in Libya Offers Salient Lessons for the Air War Against ISIL

    The NATO air campaign that helped defeat Qaddafi's regime in Libya has received relatively little mention in public discussion of the ongoing air strikes against ISIS. But the campaign in Libya offers at least five lessons that deserve greater attention today.

    Nov 25, 2014

  • Militant Islamist fighters parade along the streets of Syria's northern Raqqa province

    Commentary

    When Jihadis Come Marching Home

    The existing pool of determined jihadists in America is very small and lacks training and experience, which fighting in Syria and Iraq would provide. Returning jihadi veterans would be more formidable adversaries. Still, the threat appears manageable using current U.S. laws and existing resources.

    Nov 19, 2014

  • Karen Elliott House, Brian Michael Jenkins, Dalia Dassa Kaye, James Dobbins, and Seth G. Jones at RAND's Politics Aside 2014

    Blog

    ISIS in Perspective

    While ISIS poses a threat to the U.S., violence from the group is not likely to be aimed directly at the American homeland any time soon, according to a panel of experts who discussed the Middle East at RAND's Politics Aside event. But an attack could be mounted against the U.S. if ISIS were to establish a nation from the territory it holds in Syria and Iraq.

    Nov 15, 2014

  • Militant Islamist fighters wave the ISIS flag atop a tank on the streets of northern Raqqa province, Syria, June 30, 2014

    Testimony

    Countering ISIL's Financing

    Stolen oil, extortion revenue, and access to international financial systems have enabled ISIL to build wealth. Helping Iraq and regional partners target financial facilitators and local revenue sources can reverse ISIL funding.

    Nov 13, 2014

  • Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tells the 69th U.N. General Assembly on September 29 that a nuclear-armed Iran would pose a far greater threat to the world than Islamic State militants

    Commentary

    Not to Worry, Israel

    Some Israelis worry that America's fight against the Islamic State is distracting from the Iranian nuclear challenge. But the idea that the U.S. would make additional concessions to Iran in the nuclear negotiations because of the anti-Islamic State group effort is not based on realities on the ground.

    Oct 23, 2014

  • Kurdish men, women, and children fleeing Syria to seek protection by the Turkish government as refugees

    Report

    Alternative Futures for Syria

    A December 2013 workshop evaluated possible outcomes from the Syrian civil war, but the period through August 2014 brought many changes. A reassessment of the workshop's findings shows that while a regime victory now appears to be likely, it would not be as big of a blow to ISIS due to the group's territorial gains in Iraq.

    Oct 22, 2014

  • Tank silhouette at sunset

    Commentary

    Destroy ISIL's Heavy Weapons and Vehicles: Level the Playing Field

    More than any other option, employing air power decisively to deny ISIL the ability to use its armor and artillery has the potential to immediately and dramatically shift the battlefield balance against it.

    Oct 20, 2014

  • Oil barrels under a clear, blue sky

    Commentary

    The Upside of Lower Oil Prices

    Movement toward sharply lower oil prices should be a prominent component of any strategy directed at disabling many of the world's most disruptive threats: Iran's nuclear development, ISIS, Hamas attacks on Israel, and Russia's threat to Ukraine.

    Oct 17, 2014

  • Smoke rises after a U.S.-led airstrike in Kobani, Syria, October 10, 2014

    Commentary

    Air Campaign Against ISIS Is Just Getting Off the Ground

    More than 60 countries have joined the coalition against ISIS, with at least 12 participating in the air campaign. Eventually, this will be an impressive armada, but the campaign is still in its first stage, and most of the coalition participants joined the effort only recently.

    Oct 17, 2014

  • U.S. Army boots on sand

    Commentary

    What Could U.S. Boots on the Ground Do in Iraq and Syria?

    Before embracing American boots on the ground as a strategy to fight ISIS, it's essential to be clear about what they're going to do, what they may require, and what risks may be entailed.

    Oct 15, 2014

  • U.S. Army Sgt. instructing Iraqi soldiers on individual movement techniques during a class at the Ghuzlani Warrior Training Center in 2011

    Commentary

    The Foreign Policy Essay: Hearts, Minds, & ISIL

    Defeating ISIL will not come from “winning hearts and minds” and soft power, nor will it come from a handful of precision airstrikes. It will require hard, bloody ground combat. The United States may not want to admit this, but it is the grim truth nonetheless.

    Oct 13, 2014

  • A masked man speaking in what is believed to be a North American accent in a video that Islamic State militants released in September 2014 is pictured in this still frame from video obtained by Reuters, October 7, 2014

    Commentary

    What Are ISIS's Options Now?

    In domestic debates about what the United States should do to blunt the threat posed by ISIS, Americans often forget the adversary also has options. A determined force, ISIS will counter the bombing campaign.

    Oct 10, 2014

  • A man holds up a knife as he rides on the back of a motorcycle in celebration after Islamic State militants took over Tabqa air base, in Raqqa, Syria, August 24, 2014

    Commentary

    Hit the Islamic State's Pocketbook

    The Islamic State is the world's richest terrorist group, with estimated assets of $1 billion to $2 billion. Airstrikes may disrupt the flow of oil and profits, but they won't lead to the group's financial ruin anytime soon. The Islamic State will bring in an estimated $100 million to $200 million this year.

    Oct 6, 2014

  • A Kurdish Peshmerga fighter launches mortar shells towards Zummar, controlled by the Islamic State, near Mosul, September 15, 2014

    Commentary

    Does ISIL Represent a Threat to the United States?

    There are legitimate questions about how to best go about preventing ISIL from consolidating its control over Iraq and Levant. But this is very different from arguing that ISIL is not a threat and that the United States therefore should stand aside as it does so.

    Oct 3, 2014

  • Pentagon Press Secretary Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby briefs reporters on airstrikes on ISIL targets in Syria, Sept. 25, 2014

    Commentary

    An Inconvenient War

    Congress has not addressed President Obama's plans to take other military steps against ISIS. Some members of Congress do not want to vote on the use of military force until after the upcoming elections. Among these are some who fear their vote could cost them votes.

    Sep 25, 2014

  • A pair of U.S. Air Force F-15E Strike Eagles fly over northern Iraq after conducting airstrikes against ISIL targets Sept. 23, 2014

    Commentary

    War with ISIS: What Does Victory Look Like?

    We should start the campaign with an achievable definition of victory and a reasonable expectation about what that will take. We want to degrade ISIS so its ability to attack us and our interests is minimized, and to aid allies like Iraqis and Middle Eastern governments who are willing to commit even limited forces.

    Sep 25, 2014

  • The guided-missile cruiser USS Philippine Sea launches a Tomahawk cruise missile in the Persian Gulf, Sept. 23, 2014

    Blog

    RAND Experts Discuss U.S. Airstrikes Against ISIS in Syria

    The United States and five of its partner nations are conducting strikes against ISIS terrorists in Syria using fighters, bombers, remotely piloted aircraft, and Tomahawk Land Attack missiles. RAND experts discuss the bombings and possible ramifications.

    Sep 24, 2014

  • French President Francois Hollande arrives at the Elysee Palace in Paris to speak about French airstrikes in Iraq against Islamic State militants, September 19, 2014

    Commentary

    Does France Have the Master Plan to Defeat ISIS?

    In Mali, France stopped jihadists from taking over, ejected them from the country almost entirely, and struck a major blow to their ability to threaten France and the region. This success story provides important lessons for the U.S. debate about how to deal with ISIS.

    Sep 24, 2014

  • Paratroopers depart Lielvarde Airbase, Latvia, Sept. 8, 2014, at the conclusion of a NATO exercise involving over 2,000 troops from 10 nations that focuses on increasing interoperability and synchronizing complex operations

    Commentary

    The More Options, the Better

    Preserving the ability of the United States to choose how it will respond to global events is essential. And maintaining options is critical to the calculus.

    Sep 23, 2014