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.

  • The Grand al-Nuri Mosque where Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared a new caliphate in July 2014 is seen in ruins after it was retaken by Iraqi forces from Islamic State militants, June 30, 2017, photo by Alaa Al-Marjani/Reuters

    Commentary

    Can the Islamic State Survive If Baghdadi Is Dead?

    Jun 30, 2017

    If and when self-declared Caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is killed, it will have little effect on the threat posed by the Islamic State to global security. The far more important objective is to continue dismantling the organization as a whole, including its affiliates in Libya, Egypt, Nigeria, and Afghanistan.

  • An Iraqi flag is seen amid destroyed buildings in the Old City of Mosul, Iraq, July 23, 2017, photo by Thaier Al-Sudani/Reuters

    Report

    How to Achieve Stability in Iraq After ISIS

    Jul 24, 2017

    After major combat operations against ISIS in Mosul, recovery and stability will require redoubled efforts by Iraqis and the international community. How well humanitarian, security, and other needs are addressed will affect the immediate stabilization of Iraq, including whether civilians can return home.

Explore The Islamic State (Terrorist Organization)

  • A soldier sets up voice intercept equipment during a cyber integration exercise on Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, October 21, 2015

    Commentary

    What Happens After ISIS Goes Underground

    As the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria suffers defeats on the battlefield, it is expanding its cyber presence to continue to encourage attacks abroad. The more the group relies on cyberspace, the more likely it will expose important segments of its organization to detection and disruption.

    May 30, 2017

  • A former Islamic State prison in the town of Tabqa, after Syrian Democratic Forces captured it from Islamic State militants, Syria, May 12, 2017.

    Commentary

    ISIS: Weakened but Still Potent

    ISIS is being defeated as an insurgency while preparing to transform into a clandestine terrorist group. But ISIS will continue to pose a serious threat to the countries where it operates and to the Western nations that it targets as it evolves.

    May 18, 2017

  • Displaced Iraqi people pass a torn Islamic State banner as the battle between the Iraqi Counter Terrorism Service and Islamic State militants continues nearby, in western Mosul, Iraq, April 23, 2017

    Commentary

    Can the Islamic State Survive Financially?

    Significant gains have been made in attacking the Islamic State's cash and diminishing its ability to finance high-frequency attacks in Iraq and Syria. But the group may retain enough money to support sporadic attacks in the Middle East, North Africa, and Europe.

    May 15, 2017

  • U.S. Army Special Forces members train Iraqi fighters from Hashid Shaabi at Makhmur camp in Iraq, December 11, 2016

    Commentary

    SOF's Evolving Role: Warfare 'By, With, and Through' Local Forces

    U.S. special operations forces are not providing the muscle of the frontline combat troops fighting ISIS in Iraq and Syria. Instead, they are providing meaningful support to the various indigenous forces. If they succeed, this model could become a standard option in the U.S. military playbook.

    May 9, 2017

  • Members of the Free Syrian Army distribute humanitarian aid to residents left in Harem town, Idlib Governorate, October 28, 2012, after Syrian jets bombarded Sunni Muslim regions across the country

    Report

    The U.S. Strategy to Defeat the Islamic State Needs an Overhaul

    A broader strategy to beat the Islamic State should address the conditions that allowed the group to emerge and thrive. A long-term commitment is required to establish legitimate governance in Iraq and Syria and reconcile the disenfranchised Sunni Arab populations with their governments.

    May 8, 2017

  • An Iraqi security guard walks inside Al-Salam hospital destroyed during the fighting between Iraqi forces and Islamic State militants east of Mosul, Iraq May 2, 2017.

    Commentary

    The Caliphate Is Crumbling: What Comes Next?

    ISIL's caliphate is crumbling. But unless the U.S.-led coalition can reduce the many possibilities that might give ISIL's down-and-out members a reason to fight on, the militants will continue to contribute to disorder in the region.

    May 3, 2017

  • U.S. Army soldiers, deployed in support of Combined Joint Task Force - Operation Inherent Resolve, use a rooftop as an observation post in Mosul, Iraq, March 7, 2017

    Commentary

    NATO's Role in Post-Caliphate Stability Operations

    Steps are needed to fill the vacuum left as the caliphate collapses, lest forces on the ground turn on each other to gain control. The answer is for NATO to act under U.S. leadership. The alternative is either chaos or Iran — backed by Russia — filling the void.

    May 2, 2017

  • Afghan Special Forces prepare for battle with the Taliban on the outskirts of Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand Province, Afghanistan, October 10, 2016

    Testimony

    U.S. Policy Toward Afghanistan and the Region

    Afghanistan remains a key frontline state in the struggle against terrorist groups. With that in mind, the United States should make Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan an enduring part of its counterterrorism efforts.

    Apr 27, 2017

  • Person holding a smartphone displaying influencer marketing

    Report

    How to Empower ISIS Opponents on Twitter

    ISIS supporters on average produce 50 percent more tweets per day than ISIS opponents. It's critical to empower ISIS opponents on Twitter by drawing on lessons from the marketing industry.

    Apr 21, 2017

  • News Release

    Islamic State Control of People Down 83% in Iraq and 56% in Syria from Peak Levels

    The Islamic State has lost substantial control of territory and people but still conducts and inspires attacks around the world. The U.S. should pursue a light rollback strategy that relies on local forces backed by U.S. special operations forces, intelligence assets, and airpower.

    Apr 20, 2017

  • Iraqi forces advance against Islamic State militants in western Mosul, Iraq, March 6, 2017

    Report

    Rolling Back the Islamic State

    The Islamic State has lost substantial control of territory and people. But the group still conducts and inspires attacks around the world. The United States should pursue a light rollback strategy that relies on local forces backed by U.S. special operations troops, intelligence assets, and airpower.

    Apr 20, 2017

  • People leave candles in memory of victims of a blast in the St. Petersburg metro, Russia, April 4, 2017

    Commentary

    Attacks on Russia Will Only Increase

    As Russia gets more involved with the Syrian civil war, it's likely that Sunni militants will intensify their campaign against Russia. But the key reason why Sunni attacks on Russia proper will increase is the fallout between Sunni jihadists in the Caucasus.

    Apr 4, 2017

  • Firefighters put out fires at oil wells that were set ablaze by Islamic State militants before they fled the oil-producing region of Qayyara, Iraq, January 28, 2017

    Report

    The Future of ISIL's Finances

    ISIL has been described as the wealthiest terrorist group in history. It has developed diversified revenue streams from seizing control of banks, extortion, and trafficking oil. As global counter-ISIL efforts progress, how might the group's finances evolve?

    Mar 29, 2017

  • Children pose after registering at a school and receiving new backpacks in Mosul, Iraq, January 23, 2017

    Commentary

    The Urgent Need for an Education Plan in Mosul

    In addition to restoring Mosul's damaged infrastructure, efforts to stabilize the city must include a plan to rebuild education. Students need to make up years of missed K-12 and university education, and ISIS indoctrination needs to be undone.

    Mar 27, 2017

  • Shi'ite fighters during an intensive security deployment against Islamic State militants in Balad, north of Baghdad, Iraq, December 22, 2014

    Report

    Understanding ISIL and Principles for Defeating It

    U.S. policymakers weighing options to accelerate ISIL's defeat must develop specific courses of action that address both ISIL and the regional security issues that would emerge after its fall.

    Mar 21, 2017

  • Afghan security forces take position during a gun battle between Taliban and Afghan security forces in Laghman province, Afghanistan, March 1, 2017

    Commentary

    How Trump Should Manage Afghanistan

    While media coverage has focused on Syria and Iraq, Afghanistan remains an important frontline state in the fight against terrorism. The Trump administration should aim to prevent the Taliban from overthrowing the Afghan government, encourage political reconciliation, and pursue terrorists that threaten the United States.

    Mar 21, 2017

  • Iraqi civilians walk in Al Mansour District as fighting between Iraqi security forces and Islamic State fighters continues in western Mosul, Iraq, March 10, 2017

    Commentary

    Why a Dying ISIS Could Be an Even Bigger Threat

    The collapse of the so-called caliphate won't eliminate ISIS or similar groups. In the short term, the threat of ISIS-related attacks on the West may even grow.

    Mar 13, 2017

  • A Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) fighter watches a convoy of his forces advancing north of Raqqa, Syria, February 5, 2017

    Commentary

    To Take Raqqa, the U.S. Must Work with Its Partner in the Fight Against the Islamic State Group

    Turkey strongly opposes the U.S. bid to arm the Syrian Kurds. Rushing into Raqqa without reaching agreement with Turkey would jeopardize larger U.S. regional and even global geopolitical objectives.

    Mar 13, 2017

  • Smoke rises in the background as Syrian Democratic Forces fighters stand near rubble of a destroyed building, north of Raqqa, Syria, November 7, 2016

    Commentary

    Where Do ISIS Fighters Go When the Caliphate Falls?

    When a conflict ends, transnational terrorists are likely to disperse in many directions and switch their allegiances among terrorist groups. For the West, countering these different groups will require a range of strategies.

    Mar 6, 2017

  • U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (L) listens to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (2ndR) at the start of a meeting at the World Conference Center in Bonn, Germany, February 16, 2017

    Commentary

    U.S. Should Test Russia on Islamic State

    The United States should consider accepting Russia's offer to help on ISIS, especially if the Trump administration is considering sending more troops or establishing safe zones in Syria.

    Feb 28, 2017