This is the 23rd 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 July 1, 2020 to September 30, 2020, 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, OIR transitioned to Phase IV of its campaign against ISIS in designated areas of Iraq and Syria. Under this phase, the Coalition shifted focus from training and assisting partner forces to advising and enabling them during operations against ISIS. In Iraq, the Coalition established a new Military Advisory Group and ended tactical training Coalition forces departed from two more bases in Iraq, and the United States announced plans to reduce the number of troops in Iraq from approximately 5,200 to 3,000.
In Syria, U.S. troops deployed mechanized units to Syria to provide additional force protection to preserve Coalition and partner forces’ freedom of movement to continue operations against ISIS. The deployment followed an increase in Russian aggression in northeast Syria.
ISIS continued to wage a low-level insurgency in both countries, operating mainly in rural areas and targeting mainly security forces with small arms and improvised explosive devises. The Combined Joint Task Force–Operation Inherent Resolve (CJTF-OIR) provided positive assessments of the ability of Iraqi and Syrian partner forces to conduct tactical operations against ISIS with Coalition support mainly provided for intelligence, air, and sustainment. However, USCENTCOM Commander General Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr. stated in August that ISIS could regain territory in a short time if there is a decrease in counterterrorism pressure.
Political uncertainty in Iraq and Syria as well as Iranian, Russian, and Syrian regime activities continued to threaten the ability of the Coalition and partner forces to maintain counterterrorism pressure against ISIS. Additionally, many of the conditions that allowed ISIS to emerge have not improved notably since the United States launched OIR in 2014. The United States and Iraq resumed the Strategic Dialogue in August, but attacks on U.S. interests in Iraq conducted by Iranian-backed militias, prompted Secretary of State Michael Pompeo to notify Iraqis in September that the United States was considering closing its embassy in Baghdad.
This quarter, the Lead IG agencies and oversight partners released eight reports related to OIR. These reports examined various activities that support OIR, including Air Force COVID-19 screening and quarantine procedures in Qatar and the Military Services’ management and safeguarding of pharmaceuticals at locations supporting overseas contingency operations, and Department of State (DoS) management of humanitarian assistance programs. As of September 30, 2020, the Lead IG agencies had 28 ongoing and 16 planned oversight projects, and 100 open investigations related to OIR.
Section 8L of the Inspector General Act of 1978 provides a mandate for the three Lead IG agencies—the Department of Defense Office of Inspector General (OIG), DoS OIG, and U.S. Agency for International Development 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.