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The Islamic State and U.S. Policy


Christopher M. Blanchard and Carla E. Humud


CRS Report R43612

The U.S.-led coalition military campaign against the Islamic State organization in Iraq and Syria has adapted since 2014, as Administration officials and coalition partners have implemented changes in strategy and tactics that have reduced the area controlled by the group and eliminated thousands of its personnel. While the Islamic State has suffered losses on the ground in Iraq, Syria, and Libya, a series of terrorist attacks attributed to the group or to individuals it has inspired have claimed hundreds of lives on four continents since November 2015, including in the United States. These incidents are creating a more global sense of urgency about further weakening the group and preventing future attacks.
The U.S. military has conducted operations against the group in Iraq, Syria, and Libya. Parallel U.S. diplomatic efforts are designed to promote political reconciliation in each country among local factions. In other countries, such as Egypt and Nigeria, the United States provides security assistance to partner governments in support of those governments’ operations against Islamic State affiliates. Evolving counterterrorism cooperation and intelligence sharing efforts among a wider network of concerned governments seek to further limit the ability of IS supporters to carry out transnational terrorist attacks.
The interdependent nature of conflicts and political crises in Iraq, Syria, and other countries where the Islamic State operates complicates efforts to address and durably eliminate the threats posed by the group. Military operations may eliminate IS fighters and liberate IS-held territory, but underlying political disputes and development challenges that have been exploited by the Islamic State and other extremist groups may remain unaddressed or become amplified if postconflict reconciliation and reconstruction needs go unmet. Governments may share fears about IS-related transnational terrorist threats, but leaders may face difficult decisions about the potential risks and rewards of various proposed military, law enforcement, surveillance, intelligence sharing, financial, border security, refugee admission, and consular measures.
This Congressional Research Service report provides background on the Islamic State organization, discusses its goals, operations, and affiliates, reviews U.S. legislative and policy debates, and describes select FY2017 legislative proposals.