This is the 25th 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 January 1, 2021 – March 31, 2021, 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 provide support and instruction to Iraqi and Syrian partner forces, who showed incremental progress in their abilities to prevent an ISIS resurgence, However, ISIS was able to conduct attacks, including a complex and coordinated twin suicide bombing in Baghdad. ISIS also continued to actively recruit new members and fighters and obtain revenue in Iraq by exploiting ethnic, religious and political tensions.
In Syria, ISIS remained active, particularly against regime forces and their allies in the Syrian Desert, where it also continued to focus on rebuilding its capacity. ISIS was likely behind the quarter’s escalation of violence at the al-Hol humanitarian camp for displaced persons, prompting a large scale sweep by thousands of internal security forces.
In Iraq, Iran-aligned militias increased their attacks targeting Coalition positions and assets this quarter, prompting a temporary departure of U.S. contractors supporting Iraq’s F-16 program. Although these militias are not directly related to the OIR counterterrorism mission, their actions threatened the success of Coalition operations during the quarter. In Syria, Iranian and Syrian regime proxies attacked partner forces and exploited local grievances to garner support in the Middle Euphrates River Valley, where both pro-regime forces and the primary Coalition partners, the Syrian Democratic Forces, operate.
In both Iraq and Syria, economic, social and political conditions that contributed to the rise of ISIS remained on a concerning trajectory that could further propel the group’s growth. Economic crises have gripped both Iraq and Syria, causing shortages of food and employment. In Iraq, pervasive corruption fueled continued civil unrest. In Syria, worsening violence and living conditions at displaced persons camps disrupted efforts to address critical humanitarian needs and increased the vulnerability of camp residents to ISIS indoctrination and recruiting. Humanitarian and stabilization assistance was also constrained, with security conditions and the COVID-19 pandemic limiting staffing at the U.S. Mission in Iraq, and funding limits for Syria stabilization aid continuing to affect support efforts in Syria.
The Lead IG and partner agencies completed 16 reports related to OIR this quarter, including reports on USCENTCOM’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the DoS’s funding of public international organizations.
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.