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)

  • Shi'ite fighters, who have joined the Iraqi army to fight against the Islamic State, take part in field training in the province of Najaf, September 16, 2014

    Commentary

    War Is Not the Word

    Iraq, not the United States, is at war with ISIS. This distinction is important because it helps everyone understand each country's role.

    Sep 18, 2014

  • Shi'ite fighters, who have joined the Iraqi army to fight against militants of the Islamic State take part in field training

    Testimony

    Reconciliation May Be the Best and Only Way to Defeat the Islamic State in Iraq

    Addressing root causes of insurgencies and reconciliation have historically proven to be lasting means to defeat insurgent groups. While this approach could be the best way to overcome the Islamic State in Iraq, monumental obstacles make success questionable.

    Sep 17, 2014

  • U.S. President Barack Obama delivers a live televised address on his plans for military action against the Islamic State, September 10, 2014

    Commentary

    Will Obama's Light-Footprint Strategy Be Successful Against ISIS?

    President Obama's campaign against ISIS militants marks a notable strategic shift in the conduct of warfare against terrorists and insurgents. It eschews the use of overwhelming force and embraces a light-footprint strategy that relies on precision strikes from U.S. aircraft, clandestine ground units, and local allies.

    Sep 17, 2014

  • U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry during a joint news conference with Egypt's foreign minister in Cairo, September 13, 2014

    Commentary

    The U.S. Can't Count on Regional Support in the Fight Against ISIS

    Regional governments may put some of their differences aside to help fight ISIS. But in a region rife with turmoil and multiple internal fissures, Washington cannot count on its confrontation with ISIS as its partners' overriding priority.

    Sep 16, 2014

  • Kurdish Peshmerga forces guard their position near Tal Afar, west of Mosul against Islamic State militants

    Blog

    RAND Experts Discuss U.S. Strategy on ISIS

    President Obama outlined a strategy last week to deal with the threat posed by the terrorist group known as ISIS. RAND experts discuss the speech and the follow-up efforts so far.

    Sep 15, 2014

  • Multimedia

    RAND Experts Discuss President Obama's Speech Announcing ISIS Strategy

    RAND researchers Dalia Dassa Kaye, Ben Connable and Christopher Chivvis hosted a media conference call on Thursday, Sept. 11, 2014 to discuss the President Obama's speech announcing his strategy to address the regional and global threat of ISIS. Media relations manager Joe Dougherty moderated the call.

    Sep 11, 2014

  • A resident of Tabqa city on a motorcycle waves an Islamist flag in celebration after Islamic State militants took over Tabqa air base, August 24, 2014

    Commentary

    To Defeat the Islamic State, Follow the Money

    ISIS, likely the world's richest terrorist organization, has bills to pay and mouths to feed. If U.S. President Obama wants to defeat them, he should follow the money.

    Sep 10, 2014

  • An Islamic State militant uses a loud-hailer to announce to residents of Tabqa city that Tabqa air base has fallen to Islamic State militants, August 24, 2014

    Commentary

    How ISIS Funds Its Reign of Terror

    ISIS raises much of its money just as a well-organized criminal gang would do. It smuggles, it extorts, it skims, it fences, it kidnaps and it shakes down. Although supposedly religiously inspired, its actions are more like those of an organized criminal cult.

    Sep 8, 2014

  • Members of Kurdish Peshmerga force stand guard at Sulaiman Pek front line, August 31, 2014. Iraqi security forces backed by Shi'ite militias on Sunday broke the two-month siege of Amerli by Islamic State militants.

    Commentary

    A Broad Approach to Countering the Islamic State

    Recent analysis about how to defeat the Islamic State tends to be based on no more than intuition, a general sense of history, or a small number of cases of questionable comparability. A study of 71 historical cases of counterinsurgencies should help provide empirical evidence to this important debate.

    Sep 2, 2014

  • Members of the United Nations Security Council vote on a resolution about the ongoing crisis in Iraq at UN headquarters in New York

    Commentary

    Foreign Fighters Are a Global Threat

    The threat posed by foreign terrorist fighters cannot be resolved by the United States, or any ally, working alone. It calls for broad international cooperation on law enforcement, intelligence sharing and other areas for many years to come. The road ahead will be hard, but it's best to begin now with action by the UN Security Council.

    Aug 25, 2014

  • Smoke rises during clashes between Kurdish peshmerga troops and militants of the Islamic State, formerly known as ISIL, on the outskirts of Sinjar, August 5, 2014

    Commentary

    Disrupting Terrorist Safe Havens

    Disrupting the terrorist safe havens in Syria and Iraq would require a balanced approach that makes the business of terrorist planning and training difficult without entangling U.S. forces in new conflicts and angering the very populations the United States seeks to assist.

    Aug 18, 2014

  • Syrian refugees walk amid damage and the remains of tents that were burnt in the fighting between Lebanese army soldiers and Islamist militants in the Sunni Muslim border town of Arsal, August 9, 2014

    Commentary

    To Fight ISIS, Make Peace with Syria's Assad

    To disrupt al-Baghdadi's advance, the United States and its allies should start by addressing the source of the problem — the conflict in Syria. They can begin by negotiating a truce with President Bashar Assad to stop the fighting in Syria.

    Aug 14, 2014

  • Displaced people from the minority Yazidi sect, fleeing violence from the Islamic State, walk towards the Syrian border, on the outskirts of Sinjar mountain, August 11, 2014

    Commentary

    What's Going on in Iraq?

    While the United States could embark on a much wider war in Iraq, there's little reason to think it will rush to do so or that using airpower to help defend the Kurds will make such an escalation inevitable.

    Aug 14, 2014

  • A man purported to be Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the reclusive leader of the militant Islamic State, allegedly in what would be his first public appearance at a mosque in Mosul, Iraq

    Commentary

    Hitting ISIS Where It Hurts: Disrupt Its Cash Flow in Iraq

    President Obama's decision last week to conduct airstrikes against ISIS and send humanitarian aid will help buy time for both Iraqi and Kurdish forces to regroup. But Baghdad needs a strategy that aligns the political and economic interests of all Iraqis to hit ISIS where it hurts: its war chest.

    Aug 13, 2014

  • U.S. soldiers on patrol in Kandahar province, southern Afghanistan, April 24, 2012

    Commentary

    Iraq's Lessons for Afghanistan

    The successes of ISIS and other Sunni groups have raised important questions about the wisdom of America's decision to withdraw U.S. military forces from Iraq in 2011. They raise equally significant questions about the U.S. decision to exit Afghanistan in the future.

    Aug 4, 2014

  • A militant Islamist fighter films his fellow fighters in a parade in Syria's northern Raqqa province, June 30, 2014

    Commentary

    An Evil Wind

    The threat of global terrorist enterprises has been enhanced by Western fighters joining al Qaeda offshoots like the Islamic State. With the terrorist threat evolving, the United States has little choice but to evolve with it.

    Jul 31, 2014

  • Shi'ite volunteers, who've joined the Iraqi army against militants from the radical Islamic State, take part in weapons training, July 18, 2014

    Commentary

    Defeating the Islamic State: Crafting a Regional Approach

    While ISIL may achieve temporary tactical gains from declaring the caliphate, it made the strategic error of declaring all other Sunni political actors illegitimate. This may provide an opening to build a coalition that can create and implement a regional strategy to attack ISIL.

    Jul 22, 2014

  • Followers of radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who fought U.S. troops under the banner of the Mehdi Army during the 2003-11 occupation, have returned as Sadr's new "Peace Brigades"

    Commentary

    Iraq Makes Strange Bedfellows

    In seeking to quell the unrest in Iraq, the United States must balance its own interests with those of a diverse cast of players that includes Iraq, Iran, Russia, Saudi Arabia, an unpredictable and violent jihadist front and others.

    Jul 15, 2014

  • Members of Shi'ite group Asaib Ahl al-Haq carry coffins of fighters killed in clashes with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), July 7, 2014

    Commentary

    The United States Must Remain Cautious About Intervening in Iraq

    It is difficult to see how the United States can favorably affect the situation in Iraq without making a costly and risky investment. But that does not mean doing nothing. An immediate objective is to contain the conflict.

    Jul 14, 2014

  • Mehdi Army fighters loyal to a Shi'ite cleric march during a military-style training in Najaf, June 18, 2014

    Commentary

    A Long-Term Strategy for a Democratic Iraq

    Unfortunately, no strategic option for a unified, democratic Iraq has a good chance of success. But any well-considered option that doesn't involve ineffective killing or risking U.S. lives is preferable to simply allowing Iraq to disintegrate and feed broader regional instability.

    Jun 30, 2014