5 Steps to an Anti-ISIS Insurgency

ISIS Sanctuary Map JAN. 15. 2015 WEBAn anti-ISIS insurgency (the Inside-Out approach) is the most cost-effective way to defeat Islamic State. Insurgencies that have enjoyed durable, tangible local and international support in their fight against predatory or incompetent governments have been consistently successful. Here are five key steps.


1. Provide international backing for a tangible goal. An insurgency needs a compelling outcome to rally local and international support. Examples could include a new Sunni Arab state or significant autonomy within Syria and Iraq.

2. Support locally legitimate leaders. An insurgency is a contest for legitimacy. Credible and effective local leadership is essential. The prospect of an alternative to predatory ISIS or Syrian and Iraqi regimes should provide sufficient reason for local leaders to begin emerging. Beware of charlatans.

3. Provide protected sanctuaries. A protected place or set of places on the ISIS periphery to organize, train, gather logistics, plan, and coordinate operations is essential.

4. Promote development of a political program and strategy. These are key to winning the battle of legitimacy and effective use of support. Shadow governance must be trained and deployed to compete with ISIS. The west must resist the temptation to do this for the insurgency or nag them with incessant demands.

5. Provide sustainable, but conditional support. Financial support, logistics, training, advice, intelligence, and air support are among the ways international actors can aid the insurgency. Western states should also learn from Iraq and Afghanistan that unconditional largess breeds corruption and complacency. Conditionality enables supporters to calibrate their backing, encourage positive policies and performance, and sanction where necessary. 

Christopher D. Kolenda is President and CEO of Kolenda Strategic Leadership, LLC, senior military fellow at King’s College, and author of The Counterinsurgency Challenge.  He served as senior advisor and key strategist on Afghanistan and Pakistan to the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy and three Commanders of International Forces, Afghanistan.

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Kolenda Strategic Leadership LLC

Kolenda Strategic Leadership LLC