July 31, 2020 —
Publicly Released: August 4, 2020
This is the 22th 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 April 1, 2020–June 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, U.S. and Coalition forces contended with complications and restrictions emanating from the coronavirus disease–2019 (COVID-19) pandemic in Iraq and Syria while continuing efforts to combat ISIS and develop partner forces in both countries. These efforts took place against a backdrop of continued Coalition force consolidation, and uncertainty over how many U.S. forces will remain in Iraq and Syria, and for how long. In June, the U.S. and Iraqi governments initiated a Strategic Dialogue to determine the future of the bilateral relationship, including the deployment of U.S. troops. This dialogue began after Iraq’s parliament ended 5 months of political deadlock and approved a new government led by former Iraqi intelligence chief Mustafa al-Kadhimi.
According to the Combined Joint Task Force–Operation Inherent Resolve (CJTF-OIR), ISIS conducted a surge of attacks during Ramadan and exploited restrictions placed on security forces due to COVID-19 to conduct more attacks. However, CJTF-OIR said that ISIS did not maintain the surge in attacks and assessed that due to its inability to sustain a higher level of activity as well as other factors, ISIS is not resurging. Some researchers and analysts raised concerns that ISIS could exploit any reduction in pressure on the group, and assessed that ISIS could make gains if underlying conditions, such as ineffective government and sectarian tensions, are not addressed.
Partner forces in both countries carried out operations against ISIS during the quarter, but due to COVID-19, the Coalition provided much of its support and training virtually. CJTF-OIR stated that both the Iraqi Security Forces and the Syrian Democratic Forces were more capable and better able to prevent ISIS from resurging than previously reported. However, U.S. Central Command reported growing concern over the increasing pressure from Syria and the Syrian regime on the SDF to break from the United States. CJTF-OIR also reported concern over the large numbers of ISIS prisoners in ad hoc detention centers in Syria. Most prisoners remain in detention because their countries are unwilling to repatriate them. This quarter, riots erupted at one facility and the SDF renewed calls for an international solution to the detainee crisis. Similarly, the international community struggled to provide services and security at internally displaced persons camps, where the COVID-19 pandemic slowed the delivery of humanitarian services.
This quarter, the Lead IG agencies and oversight partners released 12 reports related to OIR. These reports examined activities that support OIR, including the Department of State (DoS) Bureau of Counterterrorism’s oversight and management of its foreign assistance programs and the Global Engagement Center’s management and monitoring of its Federal assistance awards. As of June 30, 26 projects were ongoing, and 13 projects were planned. Investigative branches of the Lead IG agencies and their partner agencies closed 13 investigations, initiated 2 new investigations, and coordinated on 112 open investigations involving procurement fraud, corruption, grant fraud and other crimes.
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.