On September 22, the Atlantic Council’s Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security conducted a war game to examine the type of strategic interaction that might ensue between the US-led coalition and Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) fighters over the next six months. The latest issue brief from the Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security, “ISIS War Game: The Coming Stalemate” summarizes the results of this simulation, examines possible outcomes in the conflict, and explains key takeaways for the Obama administration as it carries out its offensive against ISIS in Iraq and Syria.
War game participants included senior Iraq and Syria analysts–some from the region, others from the US think tank community – as well as US military personnel from the navy, air force, marine corps, and army who served in recent years in Iraq and Afghanistan and are currently on tour with the Atlantic Council, Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Center for a New American Security, and Center for Strategic and International Studies. Led by the Scowcroft Center’s Senior Fellow for Middle East Security Bilal Y. Saab, the Red Team represented ISIS, while the US-led coalition (emphasizing the response of the US government and military) was played by the Blue Team, spearheaded by Michael S. Tyson, the Atlantic Council’s Marine Corps Senior Fellow.
War game participants were encouraged to think at the operational, tactical, and strategic levels of war given the obvious linkages. Members of each team proposed courses of action that increased the probability of disrupting and denying each other’s near-term plans and goals, respectively, while also achieving their own objectives. The results proved that both sides have a chance to achieve critical tasks in the next six months, but they must each take certain steps to ensure success. War game participants found that the most likely scenario six months from now is a military stalemate where ISIS is contained but still controls an impressive amount of territory in the borderlands of Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon, posing a continued security threat to those countries, the region as a whole, and even more direct Western interests.