In an attempt to paint a more complete picture of the Islamic State (IS), this report identifies key areas where the IS has shown strength, learning, and adaptation. This report also highlights key areas of weakness, mistake, and failure. In doing so, the reader should be well aware that this product provides such an overview with the explicit understanding that there is more to learn in each of these areas.
The report proceeds as follows. The first section traces the historical evolution of the group, with emphasis on the fact that well executed design and an ability to take advantage of accidents led to the creation of the IS. The second section provides a very brief and preliminary comparison of the IS to other prominent militant organizations against which the United States has fought: al-Qa’ida and the Taliban. This section is followed by a third that outlines and explores the strengths and weaknesses of the IS as a whole, noting that the IS’s success comes from its ability to leverage all parts of its organization to achieve maximum gain. This section also points out that, despite this success, the fact that the IS is attempting to operate across multiple functional areas will test the group’s ability to adapt over time and will ultimately expose the group’s shortcomings. The fourth and final section steps back to examine, at the strategic level, some of the challenges faced and opportunities available to those combating the IS.