This is the 24th Lead Inspector General (Lead IG) report to the United States Congress on Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR), the overseas contingency operation to combat the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). The report covers the period October 1, 2020 – December 31, 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, U.S. and Coalition forces continued to support partner forces, primarily the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) and Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), as they build their capacity to ensure the enduring defeat of ISIS. In November, the DoD announced plans based on a presidential directive to reduce the number of U.S. troops conducting OIR in Iraq from approximately 3,000 to 2,500, in accordance with a presidential directive. The Combined Joint Task Force—OIR (CJTF-OIR) said that the troop reduction was completed by January 15, 2021.
CJTF-OIR reported that in Iraq, the ISF carried out a large proportion of its operations against ISIS independently, but still relied on some Coalition support. In Syria, the SDF maintained the pace of its counter-ISIS operations and continued to defend critical infrastructure, but relied completely on Coalition air support, including intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance, during most of its operations against ISIS.
ISIS remained a cohesive organization and continued to operate as a low-level insurgency in Iraq and Syria. Its strategy, capabilities, and group cohesion remained largely unchanged. However, the number of ISIS-claimed attacks decreased this quarter compared to last quarter and ISIS fighters continued to operate across northern and western Iraq and throughout Syria. A former U.S. diplomat estimated that the number of ISIS fighters operating in Iraq and Syria was lower than a year ago.
Militia groups operating in Iraq and Syria posed some of the greatest security threats to the OIR mission, conducting attacks against U.S. interests in Iraq and against partner forces in Syria. A number of other factors that cannot be addressed by military means alone also influenced the campaign against ISIS. Economic insecurity hindered the provision of essential services and impoverished large segments of the population, while government corruption continued to fuel unrest.
Travel restrictions due to the COVID-19 global pandemic constrained the Lead IG agencies’ ability to conduct oversight of projects related to OIR. Despite these constraints, Lead IG agencies completed nine reports related to OIR that examined such issues as tactical signals intelligence processing, the U.S. Agency for Global Media journalistic standards and principles, and foreign assistance tracking and reporting, the DoS’s post-security program review process, and USAID’s Journey to Self-Reliance initiative. As of December 31, 2020, 27 projects were ongoing and 14 projects were planned. Investigative partners investigated a variety of alleged crimes, including procurement fraud, corruption, grant fraud, theft, program irregularities, computer intrusions, and human trafficking.
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.