The War Against ISIS

Published September 7, 2016
Updated January 18, 2018

Images and info that help explain the status of the world’s fight against ISIS.

War Against Isis Explosion Smoke
War Against Isis Distraught Child
War Against Isis Destroyed Town
Ashy Bloody Man
The War Against ISIS
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If nothing else, you know that ISIS is bad. The thing is, even after years of scary headlines and even scarier videos, most of us know little to nothing else about the intricate and downright brutal realities that inform the war against ISIS (or even what many claim to be the group's rightful name).

Now, you know that ISIS is a radical jihadist group seeking to gain more and more territory in the Middle East so that they can further propagate their fundamentalist brand of Islam. And you know that, over the last several years, prominent global actors have begun fighting back.

But where exactly did ISIS come from and who exactly is fighting the war against ISIS now? And finally, who's winning?


The Origins Of ISIS

Al Zarqawi

U.S. Department of Defense via Getty ImagesAbu Musab al-Zarqawi (center) in Iraq in 2006.

Jordanian radical Abu Musab al-Zarqawi founded the group that would become ISIS -- then known as The Organization of Monotheism and Jihad -- in 1999. The group, and largely al-Zarqawi himself, made headlines in the following years due to their violent participation in the Iraqi insurgency following the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, after which the group pledged allegiance to Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda.

Soon after, in 2006, the Organization of Monotheism and Jihad merged with several Sunni insurgent groups in Iraq to form the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI). However, al-Zarqawi's death at the hands of U.S. forces in June 2006, as well as the subsequent killings of his replacements in 2010 -- not to mention the long shadow cast by bin Laden -- limited the ISI's global profile.

But then, in 2011, the Syrian civil war broke out, tearing open the country enough to allow the ISI to slip in and rebrand itself ISIL (the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) or ISIS (the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) in 2013.

With the area in chaos, the following year made quick, large gains in territory in both Syria and Iraq. The rule they imposed in that territory was, in a word, brutal, as confirmed by many stories, photos, and videos that made it out and into the hands of the international media.

Now, the world knew the name ISIS.


The War Against ISIS

Soldiers Fighting Hill

John Moore/Getty ImagesVolunteers from the Shia Badr Brigade militia fire on ISIS fighters on the frontline on April 11, 2015 in Ebrahim Ben Ali, in Anbar Province, Iraq.

By mid-2014, with ISIS now known the world over, it wasn't long before the war against ISIS would begin.

In June 2014, Iran and the U.S. began sending troops and aircraft to fight ISIS in Iraq and Syria. By September, following a NATO summit, the U.S. had convinced nearly a dozen, mostly European, countries to join its coalition against ISIS. Soon, France had its own coalition of likewise mostly European countries.

By the end of the year, these groups joined together to form the U.S.-led Operation Inherent Resolve, consisting of more than four dozen countries providing either military, humanitarian, or intelligence aid in order to, as they put it, defeat the ideology, the funding, and the recruitment of ISIS.

The following year, Russia launched its own coalition to intervene exclusively in Syria while a group of 34 Islamic nations based out of Saudi Arabia formed their own coalition against ISIS. Meanwhile, select members of all these groups began expanding their fight against ISIS into Afghanistan, Libya, Nigeria, and beyond.

Across all these battlegrounds and among all these participants, military intervention in the war against ISIS usually took the form of precise air strikes coupled with military aid to local ground forces.

And, for the most part, it worked. As of mid-2016, The New York Times reports that ISIS territory is down 45 percent in Syria and 20 percent in Iraq from its August 2014 peak, with the group losing its military dominance over nearly half of the "key places" -- cities, oil fields, and so on -- it once held.


The Future

Changing Flag

YOUNIS AL-BAYATI/AFP/Getty ImagesA flag of the Shiite Hezbollah militant group flutters over a crossed-out mural depicting the ISIS emblem in Al-Alam village, northeast of the Iraqi city of Tikrit, on March 9, 2015, during a military operation by Iraqi government forces and tribal fighters to regain control of the Tikrit region from jihadists.

As ISIS territory has shrunk, so has its revenue. According to TIME, the world's richest terror network had assets of over $2 trillion and income of nearly $3 billion -- largely based on oil, taxes, and seized cash -- by the end of 2014. But now, the group's oil revenue is down 26 percent from last year, and its shrunken tax base is producing $2 billion less than that 2014 peak.

Beyond diminished funding, ISIS' foreign recruitment is down to two-thirds of its peak (from 30,000 to 19,000) and its monthly local recruitment is down tenfold (from 2,000 to 200).

However, despite what TIME calls the "real progress" made in the war against ISIS, several new threats are on the rise: foreign fighters returning home and spreading ISIS ideology there, increased violence out of desperation (the first quarter of 2016 was the bloodiest since mid-2014), and ISIS resources being pushed into new territories (Libya has recently seen a major increase in attacks and foreign fighters).

And as much as the war against ISIS in Syria and Iraq has proven successful, those three threats above could prove even more disastrous in the long run. F.B.I Director James Comey made headlines two months ago when he predicted that the coalition would indeed crush ISIS, but that would simply cause the ISIS ideology to simply spread to new places like never before.

“At some point there is going to be a terrorist diaspora out of Syria like we’ve never seen before,” Comey said at a cybersecurity conference at Fordham University. “Not all of the Islamic State killers are going to die on the battlefield.”

Next, read up on what life is like under ISIS and what's it like inside an ISIS school. Then, catch up with the Kurdish women successfully fighting back against ISIS.

John Kuroski
John Kuroski is the editorial director of All That's Interesting. He graduated from New York University with a degree in history, earning a place in the Phi Alpha Theta honor society for history students. An editor at All That's Interesting since 2015, his areas of interest include modern history and true crime.
Savannah Cox
Savannah Cox holds a Master's in International Affairs from The New School as well as a PhD from the University of California, Berkeley, and now serves as an Assistant Professor at the University of Sheffield. Her work as a writer has also appeared on DNAinfo.
Cite This Article
Kuroski, John. "The War Against ISIS.", September 7, 2016, Accessed April 24, 2024.