There are two theaters in the conflict with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, and they are not defined by international borders. The first is “ISIS-stan” in western Iraq and eastern Syria. Here the U.S.-led coalition is making progress and has rolled backsignificant portions of the territory held by the terrorist group. But the gains have come from predominantly Kurdish and Shiite forces, and there are limits to how far these groups can advance into Sunni heartland areas and be accepted by local populations. Rolling back the Islamic State is not enough — to sustain these gains, we must focus on the security forces and governance mechanisms that will replace them.
The second theater lies farther west, where Syria is embroiled in a horrendous civil war. The United States has assumed that this problem is not as important and has heretofore avoided involvement except for pursuing diplomatic negotiations. That’s a mistake. In Syria and Iraq, the challenge of countering the Islamic State is bound up in the broader civil wars that have created governance and security vacuums and allowed the group to thrive. These vacuums are the disease; the Islamic State is the most serious of many problematic symptoms.
Read the full op-ed at The Washington Post.