How to Defeat the Islamic State

House Committee on Foreign Affairs Hearing, "The Paris Attacks: A Strategic Shift by ISIS?"

December 02, 2015

Testimony by CFR fellows and experts before Congress.

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Terrorism and Counterterrorism

Testifying before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Senior Fellow for National Security Studies Max Boot discussed current weaknesses of the U.S. position on Iraq and Syria, as well as what can be done to defeat the self-declared Islamic State in the wake of the November 13 terrorist attacks in Paris.

A rose placed in a bullet hole in a restaurant window the day after in Paris , November 14, 2015.

Main Takeaways

  • The Islamic State cannot be contained. It must be defeated.
  • While counter-propaganda and counter-finance initiatives are worthwhile, they are unlikely to be decisive. 
  • Current partners on the ground have been ineffective thus far in fighting the Islamic State.
  • To defeat the Islamic State, the United States must step up its bombing campaign, allow U.S. joint tactical air controllers to operate on the battlefield, task Special Operations Forces to directly target Islamic State networks, and provide a force of 20,000 to 30,000 in order to galvanize and support a Sunni uprising in Iraq and Syria.
  • Any comprehensive strategy has to have a strong political component that offers Sunnis in Syria and Iraq a reason go fight against the Islamic State. This means autonomy for Sunnis in Iraq and the end of the Assad regime in Syria.