Rebel fighters take part in a military display as part of a graduation ceremony at a camp in eastern al-Ghouta, near Damascus, Syria July 12, 2015.
Bassam Khabieh / Reuters

The U.S. campaign against the self-proclaimed Islamic State (also called ISIS) is unlikely to succeed without a clear strategy for taking the fight to ISIS in eastern Syria by convincing local tribal leaders there to join the battle. The experience of fighting ISIS’ predecessor—al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI)—in Anbar province from 2006 to 2008 makes that clear. Defeating AQI would not have been possible without the Sunni Awakening in AQI’s core areas.

ISIS’ continued control over territory from Aleppo to the Syrian-Iraqi border allows the group to resupply and reinforce its frontlines from northern Syria all the way to Baghdad’s suburbs. The area is also a valuable staging and training ground for hordes of foreign ISIS recruits. Indeed, over the long term, ISIS’ rule in eastern Syria is likely to turn the territory into a terrorists’ safe haven, providing cover for transnational jihadist fighters on a scale

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  • ILAN GOLDENBERG is a Senior Fellow and Director of the Middle East Security Program at the Center for a New American Security. 

  • NICHOLAS A. HERAS is the Research Associate in the Middle East Security Program at the Center for a New American Security.

  • BASSAM BARABANDI is a former Syrian diplomat and Co-Founder of People Demand Change, an organization that focuses on providing humanitarian relief to Syrians and research and analysis of the Syrian conflict.

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