The Foreign Service Journal - January/February 2018
36 JANUARY-FEBRUARY 2018 | THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL without resistance through Fallujah, Raqqa, Tikrit andMosul, even threatening the gates of Baghdad, before announcing the establishment of a caliphate (Islamic state) and declaring Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi as caliph —the successor to the Prophet Mohammed. The speed of the advance, the confidence portrayed through their polished media arm, and the stories that emerged about the horrors of life under ISIS and the persecution of innocents shocked and horrified the world. In August 2014, President Barack Obama ordered air strikes to prevent the fall of the Kurd- ish city of Erbil and to break the group’s siege on Mount Sinjar, where thousands of ethnic Yazidis had fled after being threatened with genocide. Between Aug. 19 and Sept. 2 of that year, the world witnessed the brutal beheading of U.S. journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff at the hands of “Jihadi John”—executions that were as carefully captured on film by ISIS media as the take of a Hollywood movie. On Sept. 10, 2014, President Obama addressed the nation to declare that the fight against ISIS was our fight, but “not our fight alone.” American power could make a difference, he noted, but Iraq and our other partners in the region would need to be front and center in the effort. He then announced “that America will lead a broad coalition to roll back” ISIS. The campaign would seek to “degrade, and ultimately destroy, ISIL through a comprehensive and sustained counterterrorism strategy.” This would include airstrikes and other support for forces on the ground in Iraq and Syria. The campaign would go after ISIS funding, interrupt the flow of foreign fighters into Iraq and Syria, and discredit the militants’ ideology. It would also intensify our intelligence gathering against the terrorist group and supply humanitarian assistance to those displaced by ISIS. Concluding his address, President Obama said, “This is American leadership at its best: We stand with people who fight for their own freedom, and we rally other nations on behalf of our common security and common humanity.” The Global Coalition Takes Shape Two weeks later, on Sept. 24, 2014, standing before the United Nations General Assembly, President Obama reiterated that the United States was prepared to “work with a broad coalition to dismantle this network of death” and asked the world to join us. Over the next two weeks, more than 40 nations answered that call. By then, the White House had already announced the appointment of General (ret.) John Allen as the Special Presiden- tial Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL (now ISIS) and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Brett McGurk as his deputy. By the time it held its first formal meeting in Brussels two months later, the coalition had grown to 60, with member-states fromNorth America, Asia and Europe, as well as almost a dozen from the Middle East. They committed themselves to the five lines of effort President Obama had articulated in his Sept. 10 address: the military fight; the work to stem the flow of foreign terrorist fighters; work to cut off the group’s access to funding; work to combat its toxic messaging; and provision of humanitar- ian assistance to the displaced (later expanded to include the stabilization of communities liberated from ISIS). Although the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) sought out some foreign partners for their unique capabilities or geography, the majority of the nations standing with the United States at that first ministerial meeting in Brussels had asked to be included. No one knew exactly what we were getting into, but the urge to stand up and be counted was strong. In contrast with the long, slow 1990-1991 effort in preparation for Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm, when the United States gathered 35 nations in response to Iraq’s invasion and annexation of Kuwait, the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS came together almost organically in those first months. In fact, the pace was so quick that it forced the State Department to enlarge the initial task force, run out of the Operations Center, into a working group to manage the outpour- ing of enthusiasm and contributions from partners, and eventu- ally to turn the working group into an office. Today coalitionmembership stands at 74, comprised of 70 nations and four international organizations (the European Union, North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Arab League and INTERPOL). Twenty-three partners, including the United States, have collec- tively stationedmore than 10,000 troops in Iraq and Syria, working to build the military capacity of those engaged in direct action against ISIS and supporting efforts to deny it safe haven. The coali- tion has four civilian working groups, divided roughly along the lines of effort described above. More than 90 countries (including nearly two dozen observer countries) participate in a variety of meetings each quarter, depending on their interests—making this the largest international coalition in history. While the military effort, Operation Inherent Resolve, is run by CENTCOM and its considerable machinery in Tampa, as well as through a number of forward operating bases in the region that are No one knew exactly what we were getting into, but the urge to stand up and be counted was strong.