At the height of their power, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, now referred to as Daesh, operated in 18 different countries and had an annual budget of $1 billion with an estimated 30,000 members. They conducted ground attacks on both government forces and any other force that opposed them. Their goal: to establish a so-called caliphate in the region. On August 7th, 2014, the U.S.-led coalition launched airstrikes against Daesh. On March 23rd, 2019, the Pentagon announced the physical defeat of the Daesh caliphate in Syria. Over 110,000 square miles were liberated. Approximately 7.7 million people were freed from Daesh oppression. In Baghuz, Syria, where the final battle took place, a yellow flag was flown atop a building by U.S.-backed Syrian forces as they celebrated their victory over Daesh.
Founded in 1999 under the name Jamāʻat al-Tawḥīd wa-al-Jihād and changing to Islamic State of Iraq in 2006, and with an allegiance to al-Qaeda, the oppressive presence of Daesh in the region grew once Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi came to power in 2010. Al-Baghdadi became involved with Daesh while detained in Camp Bucca in the early 2000’s. When released from detainment, he quickly rose in prominence by being directly involved in the violent atrocities conducted by Daesh.
Throughout the next several years with al-Baghdadi as head, Daesh seized control of several major cities in Iraq. Kidnappings, mass murder, and extortion were common crimes committed by Daesh members. By declaring the creation of a so-called caliphate, Daesh gave al-Baghdadi self-proclaimed authority over the Muslims of the world. Their declaration as a caliphate was criticized and disputed by Middle Eastern governments. They were officially declared a terrorist organization by both Iraq and Syria, along with many other nations of the world.
Coalition troops were sent into Iraq to support the defeat of Daesh. In October of 2014, this combined effort was given the name Operation Inherent Resolve. Along with Iraqi and Syrian forces, over 30 countries combined together for the sole mission of defeating Daesh. The Combined Joint Task Force- Operation Inherent Resolve (CJTF-OIR) worked with partner forces to free the nearly 8 million people under the control of Daesh. By mid-2015, Kurdish fighters expelled Daesh out of towns in Syria and reclaimed military bases that had fallen under Daesh control. In late 2015, Iraqi forces took control of Ramadi from Daesh and then Fallujah just 6 months later. After several years of combined assaults, Daesh was quickly losing control of central Iraq.
Mosul was retaken from Daesh control toward the end of 2016. Mosul was considered by Daesh as their capital city in the two years since it fell under their control. By early 2017, Daesh had lost all control of central Iraq. At the end of July 2017, it was reported that Daesh had lost an estimated 73% of the territory they had once controlled in Iraq. By the end of the year, the Iraqi Army announced all of Iraq had been liberated and their people freed from Daesh oppression.
On March 23rd, 2019, the Syrian Democratic Forces announced that Daesh had lost its final stronghold in Syria, bringing an end to their so-called caliphate. On October 26th, 2019, during a raid conducted by U.S. forces, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was killed in Northwest Syria.
CJTF-OIR continues its pursuit of Daesh remnants to this day. The remains still linger, but with few resources and the inability to project power to the same degree as they did in 2012, they have very little influence in the region. The continued training of partner forces within the scope of the Defeat Daesh mission is now the focus of Operation Inherent Resolve, along with preventing Daesh from re-emerging in the region and recruiting members to fight for them once again.
Iraq is working hard to establish a stable, unified government. After being devastated by the threat of Daesh, the Iraqi people are primed and ready for this transition, moving closer to being a free and sovereign nation withstanding against any third-party interference. Its military is ready to take a more active role in the safety and security of Iraq, and demonstrate its ability to protect the people and interests of Iraq.
In the last year, the role of the Coalition has been to work alongside partner forces in Iraq and Syria in preventing the remnants of Daesh from returning to power, and to keep the extremist ideologies of Daesh suppressed. The destruction of Daesh provides partners the space and time to recover from the physical and emotional damage that has been left behind in their wake.
The lessons of the rise and fall of Daesh have shown the international community the need to remain vigilant and prepared, to swiftly respond to any threat by third-party actors or violent extremist organizations. The fortitude of the Iraqi people and the continued Coalition support of our partner forces, what was once darkened by Daesh, is rejuvenated with the aspirations of a free people.