This is the 20th Lead Inspector General (Lead IG) report to the United States Congress on Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR), the overseas contingency operation (OCO) to combat the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). The report covers the period October 1, 2019 to December 31, 2019, and summarizes the quarter’s key events and describes completed, ongoing, and planned Lead IG and partner agency oversight work related to OIR.
During the quarter, significant events took place in both Syria and Iraq that raised questions about the status and future of OIR. In Iraq, Iranian-aligned militias engaged in increasingly provocative behavior, launching attacks on Iraqi bases that house U.S. troops, and storming the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. On January 2, 2020, a U.S. airstrike in Iraq killed Iranian Major General Qassem Soleimani, the of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps–Qods Force. On January 8, Iran launched ballistic missiles at two Iraqi bases where U.S. forces are stationed and at least 50 U.S. service members were injured.
In the midst of these hostilities, the United States halted counter-ISIS operations in Iraq because of force protection concerns. In addition, the Iraqi parliament passed a non-binding resolution requiring U.S. forces to leave Iraq. As of the time of publication, Coalition and Iraqi forces resumed counter-ISIS operations, but the United States and Iraq had not resolved whether U.S. forces will remain in Iraq. Questions remain as to how these developments have affected ISIS operations and efforts to resurge.
In Syria, Turkey’s incursion across Syria’s northeastern border in October triggered a withdrawal, redistribution and, ultimately, a reduction of U.S. forces in northeastern Syria from 1,000 to 500 personnel. U.S. forces moved to the far northeast of Syria and the DoD also deployed troops to help its partner force, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) secure oil fields and to prevent ISIS from exploiting oil revenues. Russian, Turkish, and Syrian regime forces moved into areas previously occupied by the United States and the SDF.
During this redistribution, U.S. forces paused operations against ISIS for several weeks to focus on force protection. The SDF paused its counter-ISIS operations to respond to the Turkish advance. Joint counter-ISIS operations resumed in late November. The impact of these events on ISIS’s ability to carry out attacks in Syria is unclear.
This quarter, the Lead IG agencies and oversight partners released six reports related to OIR. These included reports related to security assistance and training for Iraq’s security forces and diplomatic security programs. As of December 31, 2019, the Lead IG agencies had 41 ongoing and 22 planned oversight projects, and 116 open investigations related to OIR.
Section 8L of the Inspector General Act of 1978 provides a mandate for the three Lead IG agencies—the DoD OIG, DoS OIG, and USAID OIG—to work together to develop and carry out joint, comprehensive, and strategic oversight. Each IG retains statutory independence, but together they apply their extensive regional experience and in-depth institutional knowledge to conduct whole-of-government oversight of these overseas contingency operations.