The terrorist organization known as ISIS, which stands for the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, also referred to as ISIL (the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) or IS (the Islamic State), is a Salafi jihadist militant group that follows the Wahhabi doctrine of Sunni Islam.1,2 ISIS’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, was born in Samarra, Iraq, and was captured by U.S. forces in 2005 while leading a Sunni militant group.3 During his four-year detainment at Camp Bucca, he developed associations with several al Qaeda commanders.3 As part of an agreement with the Iraqi government, the U.S. released Baghdadi to the Iraqis who quickly released him.3 As he was being released, Baghdadi reportedly told his U.S. guards, “I’ll see you guys in New York.”3
Following the destabilizing civil uprising in Syria, ISIS seized territory in Syria and quickly began taking over territory in Iraq, establishing an Islamic-fundamentalist Caliphate in the areas it controlled. In 2014, ISIS reportedly controlled 35% of Syrian territory, including nearly all of Syria’s oil and gas fields, and large portions of western and northern Iraq, to include Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city.4 Reports of brutality from ISIS controlled territory have been unspeakable, to include burning people alive, drowning people in cages, and turning young women into sex slaves for the ISIS fighters. Their brutality has led to a mass exodus of refugees, creating a humanitarian crisis the world has not seen since WWII and exhausting the resources of countries who have taken in the refugees.
The U.S. has led bombing missions and surgical strikes by Special Operations Forces, but the actions taken thus far have produced less than optimal results. The air strikes against ISIS are largely ineffective without friendly forces on the ground to positively identify ISIS locations and distinguish the ISIS fighters from noncombatants. Of greatest concern to the United States is ISIS using the Caliphate to plan 9/11 style attacks on its homeland, similar to how Usama Bin Laden used Taliban controlled territory to plan his attacks. Advocates for employing U.S. ground forces argue that a true coalition requires U.S. leadership and forces to be effective. Opponents of employing U.S. ground forces fear being pulled into another long occupation of the Arabian Peninsula after the enormous financial and human costs the country endured during the decade after the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
Should the U.S. commit ground forces (in addition to Special Operations Forces) to destroy ISIS?