July 21, 2016

CNAS Press Note: The Counter-ISIS Ministerial Meeting

By Ilan Goldenberg, Nicholas Heras, and Paul Scharre

Washington, July 21 – As the defense and foreign ministers of 46 nations meet in Washington to discuss the counter-ISIS campaign, the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) Middle East Security Program Director Ilan Goldenberg, CNAS 20YY Future of Warfare Initiative Director Paul Scharre, and CNAS Bacevich Fellow Nicholas Heras have written a new Press Note, “The Counter-ISIS Ministerial Meeting.”

Goldenberg, Scharre, and Heras recently authored the CNAS report “Combatting the Islamic State: A Bottom-Up Approach.”


The full Press Note is below:

Defense and Foreign Ministers from 46 nations participating in the counter-ISIS campaign are meeting in Washington this week. High on the agenda for the participants will be to start drawing up a blueprint to hold areas taken from ISIS as the campaigns in Iraq and Syria pick up steam. This topic is of great urgency as local Syrian and Iraqi forces backed by the Coalition steadily move to seize strategic territory from ISIS, including the upcoming battle for Mosul – Iraq’s second largest city.

Time is of the essence to plan for stabilizing ISIS-held areas in Syria and Iraq as the Coalition campaign to collapse the would-be Caliphate achieves more inroads. A plan not only to retake territory but to hold it with forces acceptable to the local population will be essential to this strategy.  It will also require a commitment to reconstruction and humanitarian assistance, including IDP resettlement, for areas that were formerly under ISIS control. In some areas such as northern Syria and northwestern Iraq, it will require the management of complex identity politics between the local Sunni population and other groups to prevent further outbreaks of conflict. In other areas, such as eastern Syria and most of western Iraq, it will require a delicate process of building a local hold force to support an internationally acceptable alternative to ISIS, while maintaining sustained material support for local Sunni Arab tribes. 

To avoid the rise of new ISIS in three to five years, managing the aftermath of the ISIS proto state should be as important for international security as displacing it. This task will not be easy, nor will the challenge of replacing the would-be Caliphate be accomplished in the near term. It will require strategic patience and likely a long-term investment from regional actors and the international community to stabilize post-ISIS areas. However, playing the long game in eastern Syria and western Iraq is the only strategy to ultimately prevent the reemergence of ISIS.  

Goldenberg, Scharre, and Heras are available for interviews. To arrange an interview, please contact Neal Urwitz at nurwitz@cnas.org or 202-457-9409.


  • Ilan Goldenberg

    Former Senior Fellow and Director, Middle East Security Program

    Ilan Goldenberg is the former Senior Fellow and Director of the Middle East Security Program at the Center for a New American Security. He is a foreign policy and defense expe...

  • Nicholas Heras

    Former Fellow, Middle East Security Program

    Nicholas A. Heras is a former Fellow at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), working in the Middle East Security Program. His work focused on the analysis of complex...

  • Paul Scharre

    Vice President and Director of Studies

    Paul Scharre is the Vice President and Director of Studies at CNAS. He is the award-winning author of Four Battlegrounds: Power in the Age of Artificial Intelligence. His firs...