This is the 17th 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 January 1, 2019 to March 31, 2019, and summarizes the quarter’s key events and describes completed, ongoing, and planned Lead IG and partner agency oversight work related to OIR.
Between January 1, 2019 and March 31, 2019, U.S.-led Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS and partner forces liberated the last piece of territory under ISIS control in Syria, bringing an end to the group’s territorial “caliphate.” Publicly-available estimates of the number of ISIS fighters, facilitators, and other supporters dispersed across Iraq and Syria range from 14,000 to 30,000. The Combined Joint Task Force–OIR (CJTF-OIR) reported that ISIS was re-constituting as an insurgency while continuing to carry out attacks in both countries. An unknown number of ISIS fighters moved from the last battle in the Middle Euphrates River Valley to urban centers in Syria and into Iraq, while ISIS family members fled to internally displaced persons (IDP) camps. More than 1,000 ISIS fighters remain in detention facilities under the control of the U.S.-backed Syrian Defense Forces.
As the quarter began, the U.S. military was in the process of withdrawing forces from Syria following a surprise order in December to remove all troops from that country. However, in February, the Administration modified the full withdrawal to retain an unspecified number of troops in northeastern Syria and at the At Tanf garrison near the Jordanian border. According to both the Department of Defense (DoD) and Department of State ((DoS), U.S. policy toward Syria remained unchanged and still sought to secure an “enduring defeat” of ISIS. CJTF-OIR stated that it would retain its “same core capabilities” in Syria with fewer troops, in part by relying more on partner forces. However, the withdrawal announcement and subsequent decision to reduce forces raised questions about whether Coalition partners would continue their operations in Syria. As of the end of the quarter, DoD officials reported to the DoD OIG that it was “engaging Coalition partners to increase their support” in light of the drawdown.
The DoS and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) reported that ongoing lawlessness and violence in Syria was preventing IDPs and refugees from returning home and hindering U.S. efforts to provide stabilization programming and humanitarian assistance. USAID reported that hundreds of thousands of people remain displaced due to insecurity and a lack of services or economic opportunities in their places of origin.
This quarter, the Lead IG agencies and oversight partners released 11 reports related to OIR. These included reports related to equipment that the U.S. has provided to the Iraqi Border Guard, diplomatic security programs, and financial accountability in overseas contingency operations. As of March 31, 2019, the Lead IG agencies had 39 ongoing and 17 planned oversight projects, and 116 open investigations related to OIR.
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.