While the US has been pulling back, the Islamic State (ISIS) has moved forward with its plan to continue waging guerrilla warfare. 

ISIS describes its “overarching strategy” for its “desert-based insurgency” as consisting of three parts: “sahara” (desert), “sahwat” (meaning awakenings — a derogatory reference to any Sunni Muslims who oppose the group), and “sawlat” (“hit-and-run operations”). This is according to CJTF-OIR, which submitted responses to the inspector general office’s questions. 

Therefore, whereas the Islamic State had once proclaimed that is territorial caliphate was “remaining and expanding,” the group quickly returned to its insurgent roots after losing its turf, conducting guerrilla-style warfare against all of its enemies in the region. 

According to the inspector general’s report, CJTF-OIR highlighted five “Sunni-majority provinces” in Iraq where the group captured ground in 2014 and now carries out regular attacks. As is the case with other insurgents of the past and present, ISIS draws “popular support” to a large extent from “isolated and rural areas” outside of the security forces’ reach.

As in Iraq, ISIS continues to pick its spots in Syria, seeking to undermine rival authorities. According to US Central Command (CENTCOM), ISIS’s “strategy in Syria is to create turmoil in territory that it has lost to challenge ruling authorities and assert its power.” In both countries, ISIS focuses “on assassinations and the burning of fields of crops” — operations that have been trumpeted in the group’s media. 

Read more: Long War Journal