The fight against ISIS has been going on for years, and in the wake of the Paris attacks and allegations that the San Bernardino shooters were ISIS supporters, efforts to stop the terrorist organization seem less effective than ever. With such a high-profile, generally safe city being targeted, and more being threatened, the world is left wondering if ISIS can be stopped, but it's an intensely complex situation that won't be easily resolved.
ISIS is in a unique position of power because the organization has been run systematically, much like a legitimate state government. The caliph, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, has appointed two deputies, a cabinet, and a council of advisers to oversee operations and strategy. Revenue comes from oil smuggling (to the tune of an estimated $1 million per day), kidnap ransoms, and donations from jihadi networks around the Middle East. ISIS even issues annual reports on bombings, assassinations, and recruitment in attempts to lure prospective donors.
ISIS' effective financing has helped provide the group with weapons, but the organization is also receiving weapons from other sources. The United States has been arming Syrian rebels for years, and now many of those weapons have been captured and used by ISIS. In 2014, President Obama commissioned the CIA to investigate whether arming rebels ever works out well, and quite simply, the answer was no. The Reagan administration gave arms to the anti-Communist rebels in Nicaragua and Afghanistan, and both conflicts were drawn out for years and produced ambiguous solutions — the power vacuum created from the Soviets pulling out of Afghanistan is one of the reasons ISIS exists today.
ISIS is well-organized and well-funded, so it's understandable that foreign governments are having such a difficult time fighting back against the terrorist organization. So far, the primary offense against ISIS has been airstrikes, but the United States is getting more involved. On Oct. 30, just two weeks before the Paris attacks, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest announced that 50 special forces units would be mobilized to Syria. The U.S. Special Operations teams are expected to arrive in-country soon and will join Kurdish forces on the ground to eradicate ISIS. This is the first direct involvement by foreign troops, though many countries in the international coalition to fight ISIS have contributed troops to help train Iraqi security forces.
In his Oval Office address following the San Bernardino shooting, President Obama assured the American people that ISIS will be stopped. Pointing to the major victories in the fight against terrorism during his presidency, he admitted that progress is slow, but inevitable.
The threat from terrorism is real, but we will overcome it. We will destroy ISIL and any other organization that tries to harm us. Our success won’t depend on tough talk, or abandoning our values, or giving into fear. That’s what groups like ISIL are hoping for. Instead, we will prevail by being strong and smart, resilient and relentless, and by drawing upon every aspect of American power.
By working with other countries, staying vigilant in undermining ISIS operations, and combatting hateful, Islamophobic rhetoric, ISIS can and will be defeated.