The Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve (CJTF-OIR), initiated in 2014 to combat ISIS through a global coalition, has faced increasing challenges in maintaining its focus on the mission. The Pentagon’s shift from a combat to a support role in Iraq in December 2021, aimed at training and advising Iraqi special forces, has been complicated by over 150 attacks on US troops following the Israel-Hamas conflict. These attacks have not only resulted in casualties, with three soldiers killed and around 146 injured, but have also forced a strategic reassessment of US and coalition efforts in the region.
The Inspector General (IG) report points out that the Iran-backed militia attacks, using drones and rockets, have not only threatened the safety of US and coalition forces but have also led to a significant diversion of resources. This diversion has impacted the overall momentum of the Operation Inherent Resolve campaign, hindering progress and necessitating changes in the operational paradigm to ensure the security of coalition forces.
The Pentagon’s response to the escalating violence has included heightened readiness of US troops, deployment of additional forces, and strategic military assets to the region to bolster defense and deter further escalations. Despite these measures, the continuous attacks have led to a reduction in airstrikes against ISIS targets, delays in key leader engagements, and disruptions in the supply chain critical for the Counter-ISIS Train and Equip Fund.
The broader implications of these disruptions are multifaceted. Diplomatically, the US has had to order the departure of embassy staff and service contractors, affecting base operations and diplomatic missions in Iraq. Militarily, the focus on immediate threat response has limited the capacity to pursue the counter-ISIS campaign effectively. These disruptions are further exacerbated by the activities of Arab tribal militias in Deir ez-Zor, which have emerged as formidable opponents against the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).
These Arab tribal militias, supported by Iran and the Syrian regime, have launched attacks against SDF positions, straining the coalition’s resources and focus. The IG report underscores the militias’ role in instigating a “full-fledged resistance movement,” leveraging support from Damascus and Tehran to challenge SDF control and complicating the broader counter-ISIS strategy. The persistence of these tribal factions not only poses a direct military challenge but also impacts the socio-political dynamics in the region, affecting Arab-SDF relations and potentially undermining the coalition’s efforts to stabilize areas liberated from ISIS.