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The Grand Strategy of the Islamic State: What Can the Coalition Do About It

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Technical Report

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Air War College, Air University Maxwell Air Force Base United States

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The pronouncement in June 2014 by its self-proclaimed caliph that the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria ISIS would be henceforth a caliphate known just as the Islamic State seemed to catch the United States government by surprise. Just six months before, President Barack Obama implied that ISIS was the jayvee junior varsity team to Al Qaeda. Since the United States government does not understand the Islamic State and the undercurrent of the radical Islamic jihadist ideology that drives it, he failed to recognize that the Islamic State was actually playing at the varsity level. Therefore, the United States cannot possibly develop a comprehensive, long-term strategy to defeat it without first understanding it and the environment it is operating in. Hence, this paper attempts to assist strategists to better understand the Islamic State. It does so by introducing its origins, and then proceeds to show it has the makings of a proto-state. It then uses the Islamic States own literature combined with expert analyses to construct the Islamic States grand strategy, and assess whether it is a threat to the United States and its allies. Then, three brief recommendations to improve the current United States strategy will be presented 1 the United States should facilitate a long-term generational counter-ideological strategy led by Salafi and secular Muslims 2 continue a more aggressive air campaign but in combination with a larger special operations effort in support of moderate indigenous Sunni forces and 3 attempt more aggressive diplomacy among all stakeholders in the region to prevent the spread of the conflict into adjacent countries while shaping the conditions for a cooperative Arab and Sunni Muslim follow-on peacekeeping force once the Islamic State is crushed. The paper concludes that the current strategy of containment conducted more cohesively with allies, and more diplomatically aggressive is still the best course.

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