The death of SO1 Charles Keating IV on May 3, 2016, in Iraq marks the third U.S. military death in operations against Daesh. Once again, America’s attention is drawn to the conflict (it’s not a war, at least not officially) raging across the globe. So where are we exactly in the fight?
According to the Pentagon and news sources, the fight against Daesh in Syria and Iraq is going well. Estimates place Daesh territorial losses at 40% of what they controlled at their peak, and foreign recruitment at 20% of their peak. Intelligence indicates that Daesh’s administrative and warfighting functions are feeling the strain of losing land and money to coalition airstrikes and ground forces. The strain was most recently highlighted by the announcement that the salaries paid to Daesh fighters would be significantly reduced. Daesh remains a determined enemy, however, as demonstrated by the resistance that Kurdish, Iraqi, and Syrian forces (both government and militia) are facing as they continue to press their attack.
With the good news out of the way, this is going to be a long fight. I saw a column somewhere (and I apologize to who made it originally, because I honestly can’t remember) that compared fighting the Daesh ideology to squeezing a balloon full of water – if you squeeze it tightly in one place, the water just moves and bulges up in another.
In the last year, Daesh and associated lackeys have struck in France, Belgium, Turkey, Yemen, Indonesia, Egypt, the United States, Bangladesh, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria. Push it back to January of last year, and you can add Bosnia, Denmark, and Tunisia to the list. Not all of these were directly Daesh-ordered; some attacks were lone wolfs under inspiration, but it demonstrates what analysts consider one of their strongest points – their ability to reach out via social media and attract disaffected people to their cause. The U.S. military is only now officially beginning to respond to this front with their own offense, although the limited reporting available indicates they are achieving significant success in disrupting communications and financial transactions.
Even the loss of territory in Iraq and Syria has simply caused Daesh to bulge up in another location – Libya. Daesh’s strength is estimated at over 6,000 fighters in Libya, and they exercise significant control over the town of Sirte and its surrounding area. Banks seized during the takeover of Sirte provide some funds, as do seizures of oil tankers off the
coast, but Daesh has not yet been able to exploit the oil fields surrounding Sirte. Intelligence agencies believe that Daesh is preparing Sirte to be their new headquarters should they lose Mosul, Iraq, and Raqqa, Syria, their current hubs. Daesh is also believed to be reaching out to Boko Haram in an effort to recruit fighters to its cause from across Africa. U.S. forces are already conducting training in concert with host nation forces in Africa to prepare those forces to be the front line against Daesh expansion.
The media coverage of the battle against Daesh ebbs and flows, depending on whether they view Daesh or Beyonce, the Kardashians, and the distraction du jour as more important on a given day, but the war itself is ongoing, hot, and expanding.
About the author
Joel is an 11 year veteran of the US Coast Guard, where he has served at various units including the International Training Division and Maritime Security Response Team. He has held qualifications including Deployable Team Leader/Instructor, Direct Action Section Team Leader, and Precision Marksman – Observer. He has deployed/instructed on five continents and served in quick reaction force roles for multiple National Special Security Events in the US. He is the owner of Hybrid Defensive Strategies, LLC in Chesapeake, VA, and can be contacted on Facebook and Instagram. Any opinions expressed here are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the US Coast Guard or the US Government.