A Timeline of the War We Are “Winning”

When President Obama ran for the nation’s highest office in 2008 he qualified his foreign policy credentials against the mishandling of global affairs by the outgoing President George W. Bush. At the top of this list of criticisms was the war in Iraq which President Obama promised to end and bring American troops home. Then Senator, Obama advised America had no business going into Iraq and certainly had no interests in staying. Upon being elected President this became one of his top priorities. The withdrawal from Iraq actually began when President Bush was still in office in 2007 but was rapidly escalated under the new president. The final withdrawals were completed in December 2011, bringing an effective end to the Iraq War. This exit from Iraq was part of his reelection platform in 2012 as he explained, “I said I’d end the war in Iraq. I ended it.” ISIS war timeline


Unfortunately, many of the warnings issued by critics to the Iraq withdrawal strategy came true at that point. Iraq slipped into a state of sectarian conflict and civil war which culminated in the rise of ISIS in the following years. The Iraqi crisis and the upheaval in Syria bled into one another creating a regional crisis of unimagined proportions.

isis war timeline

  • January 2014 – One of President Obama’s earliest direct statements about ISIS refers to them derogatively as the “JV team.” The President explains to a reporter from the New Yorker, “The analogy we use around here sometimes, and I think is accurate, is if a J.V. team puts on Lakers uniforms, that doesn’t make them Kobe Bryant.” 


In a matter of days after this statement, the so called JV squad of Islamic terrorism had much of the Iraqi army on the run and had seized the major Iraqi city of Fallujah. In the coming months cities that had been hard earned during the American occupation also fell to ISIS as Iraq descended with parts of Syria into a hell on earth scenario under the subjection of ISIS atrocities.


Later that year as ISIS made its most significant territorial advances in Syria and Iraq these often occurred in the weeks immediately following statements from the President and his administration that contradicted the reality that was about to unfold on the ground. ISIS war timeline


At one point he assured the world that America was not going to intervene militarily in Iraq or Syria. Less than three months later he was authorizing airstrikes.


He assured the world that America would not allow ISIS to set up some sort of caliphate in Syria and Iraq even while the group appeared to be and certainly declared to be doing that very thing.


By September he was chastising those who held to isolationist impulses and encouraging NATO to get involved with the US and Britain in Iraq and Syria. This involvement would be through air strikes and the President promised there would be no boots on the ground. Then American military advisors were soon deployed to the region.


isis war timeline

 ISIS war timeline

  • September 2014 – President Obama in a White House statement calls ISIS part of the most serious threat coming out of the Middle East and North Africa.


This statement was made only nine months after ISIS was labeled the JV team by President Obama.


  • May 2015“I don’t think we’re losing.” President Obama


This was President Obama’s position after almost a year of fighting ISIS. The air strikes had slowed the ISIS territorial advance but we were about to see things spread at a new level as the idea of ISIS began to take root in nations outside of the Middle East. Many of those disenfranchised Muslims who had migrated to Europe then gone to fight with ISIS in Syria and Iraq were starting to return home. The attacks on Charlie Hebdo was among the first signs of this new problem. Later that summer the President confessed that a complete strategy for dealing with ISIS was still not in place but he was confident that the group would be driven out of the Middle East.


But finally by the end of the year he had things to brag about in the war on ISIS. In the face of US led air campaigns working in cooperation with Iraqi forces on the ground, ISIS had lost 40% of the territory gained over the previous year and a half. These gains were clouded over with the attacks in San Bernardino, CA where Islamic extremists killed 14 people. Evidence showed the attackers had been clearly inspired by ISIS. US administration officials tried to downplay any links to the group but the reality was that in spite of pushing ISIS back territorially in Iraq, their ideas and tactics had already started to spread around the world.

isis war timeline

In the spring of 2016 ISIS claimed responsibility for attacks in Brussels that killed dozens of people. This was the onset of a global killing spree either directly launched by ISIS or inspired by the group. Turkey, Yemen, Indonesia, Orlando, Nice, Bangladesh…the attacks and atrocities were no longer isolated to the Iraq and Syria region alone. ISIS was now global!


  • Summer of 2016 – President Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry and Pentagon Chief Ash Carter spend numerous briefings and public statements working to convince Americans and the world we are winning the war against ISIS.

ISIS war timeline

In August, not long after this push among the media by the President and his administration the US launched air strikes against ISIS – not in Iraq or Syria – in Libya. The threat had grown so great in North Africa that President Obama was determined he would not allow it to swell to the effectiveness which had been reached in the Middle East.

isis war timeline

ISIS war timeline

This timeline of facts in the war we are “winning” is one in stark contrast to the gentleness with which the media has handled President Obama’s missteps toward ISIS. While certainly at much lower levels than 2008, the American military is back in Iraq in spite of the promises of the presidential candidate Obama at that time. The spread of ISIS has made them an effective threat throughout Europe as well as the US. The military response to ISIS continues in the Middle East but has now also spread to North Africa. It is therefore not clear what “winning” means any longer. Around the world people are not safer from the threat of ISIS than they were a year or two years ago. This is not what “winning” looks like. It is however a consistent pattern of the President and his administration to misunderstand both the enemy and the fighting taking place.


Additional Reading On ISIS War Timeline


ISIS Attacks Around the World

ISIS Number Drop Followers Now Attacking Around the World

US Says Bombing Campaign Against ISIS In Libya Has No End Point


If you enjoyed this article about ISIS please see our Terrorism section of the web site for more articles, infographics, and podcasts. Also check out JB Shreve’s Intelligence Brief Series at Amazon.com.

isis war timeline

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