The United States is involved in the non-international armed conflicts against the Islamic State group by undertaking airstrikes in Iraq and Syria. Due to the lack of consent of the Syrian government, the United States is also involved in the international armed conflict in Syria. The United States continues to be involved in the non-international armed conflicts in Afghanistan. Finally, the United States is also undertaking strikes against Islamist militants in Somalia, Pakistan, Libya and Yemen.
The United States is a party to a series of armed conflicts. For further information on who is considered a party to an armed conflict, see ‘contemporary challenges – multinational forces: who is a party to the conflict?’ in our classification section.
- The United States is a party to the non-international armed conflict in Iraq against the Islamic State group. Upon request of the Iraqi government, the United States is leading the international coalition against the Islamic State group in Iraq and launched its first airstrike on 8 August 2014. H. Cooper, M. Landler, A. J. Rubin, 'Obama Allows Limited Airstrikes on ISIS', The New York Times, 7 August 2014; 'Iraq: US Air Strike on Islamic State Militants in Iraq', BBC, 8 August 2014. As part of a training and advisory mission, the United States has also troops deployed in Iraq. While the exact number is not known, it is estimated that about 4,600 personnel are deployed. M. Thompson, 'Number of US Troops in Iraq Keeps Creeping Upward', Time Magazine, 18 April 2016; C. Mills, ISIS/Daesh: The Military Response in Iraq and Syria, Commons Briefing Papers SN06995, 8 November 2016, p 31. The United States also provides military equipment, weapons, and ammunitions to the Iraqi Security Forces and Kurdish Peshmerga. See 'U.S. Security Cooperation with Iraq, Factsheet, Bureau of Political Military Affairs, 19 August 2015.
- The United States is a party to the non-international armed conflicts in Syria. Leading the international coalition against the Islamic State group, the United States conducted its first airstrikes in Syria on 23 September 2014. 'Obama Authorizes US Airstrikes in Syria Against Islamic State', Reuters, 11 September 2014; M. Chulov, S. Ackerman, and P. Lewis, 'US Confirms 14 Airstrikes Against Isis in Syria', The Guardian, 23 September 2014. In its letter to the United Nations Secretary-General, the United States argued that their action was based on the right to individual and collective self-defence because the Islamic State group was operating from safe havens in Syria and the Syrian government was unable to effectively prevent the Islamic State group's use of Syrian territory to launch attacks against Iraq. See the Letter Dated 23 September 2014 from the Permanent Representative of the United States of America Addressed to the Secretary-General, UN doc S/2014/695, 23 September 2013. The United States is also training and equiping selected local opposition armed forces and deployed military personnel to provide and advise selected local opposition armed forces. C. Mills, ISIS/Daesh: The Military Response in Iraq and Syria, Commons Briefing Papers SN06995, 8 November 2016, pp 34-36. In May 2017, the U.S. announced that they had started to send small arms to Kurdish militia in Syria. 'U.S. Begins Sending Weapons to Kurdish YPG in Syria', Al Jazeera, 31 May 2017; C. Kube, 'U.S. Has Started Sending Weapons to Syrian Kurds, Officials Say', NBC News, 30 May 2017.
- Due to its airstrikes in Syria without the consent of the Syrian government, the United States is also a party to the international armed conflict in Syria. On the relevance of consent for conflict classification, see 'contemporary challenges - relevance of consent' in our classification section. Morevoer, after the Syrian government's use of chemical weapons, the United States conducted missile strikes against a Syrian Air Force airfield on 7 April 2017, leading to a distinct short-lived international armed conflict between the United States and Syria. U.S. Department of Defense, 'Statement from Pentagon Spokesman Capt. Jeff Davis on U.S. Strike in Syria', Press Release, 6 April 2017. In addition, in May and June 2017, the U.S. repeatedly directly targeted Syrian government positions. Moreover, in May and June 2017, the U.S. repeatedly targeted Syrian government positions inside Syria. T. Gibbson-Neff, 'U.S. Conducts New Strikes on pro-Syrian Government Forces Threatening U.S. Special Operations Base', The Washington Post, 6 June 2017; M. Ryan, 'U.S. Launches Rare Intentional Strike on Pro-Government Forces in Syria', The Washington Post, 19 May 2017; T. Gibbson-Neff and K. Fahim,'U.S. Aircraft Shoots Down a Syrian Government Jet Over Northern Syria, Pentagon Says', The Washington Post, 18 June 2017.
- The U.S. continues to be a party to the non-international armed conflict in Afghanistan. While the U.S. combat mission has officially ended in December 2014, an important number of U.S. forces remains in Afghanistan. Their mission is mainly supportive. However, a certain number of the U.S. forces is still directly involved in combat operations. J.W. Nicholson, Statement for the Record Before the Senate Armed Services Committee on the Situation in Afghanistan, 9 February 2017, p 2; N. Bobkin, What is the US doing in Afghanistan?, Strategic Culture Foundation, 09.08.2016. U.S. operations against the Taliban and IS-K are still leading to considerable casualties. D. Azami, 'IS in Afghanistan: how successful has the group been?', BBC, 25 February 2017; B. Starr, R, Browne 'First on CNN: US drops largest non-nuclear bomb in Afghanistan', CNN, 14 April 2017.
- To some extent, the U.S. involvement in Afghanistan spills over into Pakistan when targeting individuals purportedly affiliated to the Afghan Taliban with drone strikes. Yet, not all the U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan can be linked to the non-international armed conflict in Afghanistan. Similarly, many U.S. drone strikes are not part of the existing non-international armed conflict in Pakistan and thus take place outside an armed conflict.
- In August 2016, the United States launched airstrikes to support the military operations of armed groups allied with the Libyan Government of National Accord against the Islamic State group in Sirte, and thus became a party to the non-international armed conflicts in Libya. The campaign ended in January 2017 and the United States ceased to be a party to the conflict. In September and November 2017, the United States carried out further airstrikes against Islamic State group targets in Libya. Although carried out with the consent of the Government of National Accord, it does not appear that these airstrikes are linked to the ongoing conflicts in Libya and thus take place outside an armed conflict. E. Schmitt, '17 ISIS Fighters Reported Killed as U.S. Ends Lull in Libya Airstrikes', The New York Times, 24 September 2017; 'U.S. Carries Out Air Strikes Against Islamic State in Libya', Reuters, 22 November 2017. See also the press releases issued by the U.S. Africa Command on September 24; September 28; and November 21; and 'A. Plaw and A. Pilch, 'Can Airstrikes Alone Tackle Islamic State in Libya?', Terrorism Monitor, Volume 16-2, 26 January 2018.
- The United States is also a party to the non-international armed conflicts in Yemen against the Houthis and al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. In respect of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninusla, the United States resumed regular drone strikes with the consent of the Yemeni government in 2009. The U.S. initially claimed that its drone strikes target high level operatives to further their own counter-terrorism objectives and that it 'was not working with the Yemeni government in terms of direct action or lethal action as part of that insurgency'. Transcript of John Brennan’s Remarks,'U.S. Policy Toward Yemen', Council on Foreign Relations, 2012. Yet, against the background of the insurgency in Yemen, the U.S. drone strikes and the scope of their mission more generally broadened to include wider support to the government against the insurgency by al-Qaeda in the Aarabian Peninsula. Hence, the United States is considered a party to the conflict, although not necessarily all strikes take place as part of that armed conflict. See D. Pearlstein, 'The Yemen War', Opinio Juris Blog, 18 July 2012; R. Chesney, 'Reactions to the ACLU Suit: There is Armed Conflict in Yemen, and the US Is Party to it', Lawfare Blog, 18 July 2012; R. Goodman, 'A New War? The U.S. Involvement in Yemen's Internal Armed Conflict', Just Security Blog, 28 October 2013; R. Goodman, 'Ongoing "Drone Strikes" in Yemen Raise Four Questions', Just Security Blog, 21 April 2014; R. Goodman, 'Are AQAP Domestic Insurgents Covered by the AUMF?', Just Security Blog, 29 April 2014; R. Goodman, 'What's Missing in New York Times "Latest Version" of U.S. Military Role in Yemen', Just Security Blog, 12 May 2014. Similarly, while the information provided is somehow conflicting, the United States appears to support the Saudi-led intervention in Yemen with aerial refuelling, which makes them a party under the support based approach. For further information on the support based approach, see 'contemporary classification - who is a party?' in our classification section. For information on the U.S. support to the Saudi-led coalition, including by aerial refuelling, see 'Exclusive: As Saudis Bombed Yemen, U.S. Worried About Legal Blowback', Reuters, 10 October 2016; J. Borger, 'US Military Members Could be Prosecuted For War Crimes in Yemen', The Guardian, 3 November 2016; P. Stewart and W. Strobel, 'U.S. to Halt Some Arms Sales to Saudi, Citing Civilian Deaths in Yemen Campaign', Reuters, 3 December 2016; P. Stewart, 'U.S. Weighs Bigger Role in Yemen's War, Boosting Aid to Allies', Reuters, 27 March 2017. Under the support based approach, this makes them a party to the conflict. For an extensive analysis of the U.S. data on aerial fuelling, see S. Oakford, 'The U.S. Military Can't Keep Track of Which Missions It's Fueling in Yemen War', The Intercept, 18 September 2017.
- The United States has been undertaking drone and conventional airstrikes against targets linked to al-Shabaab in Somalia since 2007. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, Somalia: Reported US Covert Actions 2001-2016, 2016. Since 2013, American troops have been supporting the Somali security forces and AMISOM, including by providing air support to their military operations. W. J. Hennigan and D. S. Cloud, ‘U.S. Airstrikes in Somalia Signal a More Direct Role Against Shabab’, Los Angeles Times, 23 July 2015. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, Somalia: Reported US Actions 2017, 2017. In March 2017, the U.S. government reportedly broadened the authority granted to U.S. military to undertake airstrikes. C. Savage and E.Schmitt, ‘Trump Eases Combat Rules in Somalia Intended to Protect Civilians’, The New York Times, 30 March 2017; M. Windsor, ‘Trump’s Directive on Offensive Airstrikes in Somalia Could Fuel Terrorism Recruitment, Experts Warn’, ABC News, 1 April 2017; E. Schmitt, ‘U.S. Carries Out Drone Strikes Against Shabab Militants in Somalia’, The New York Times, 3 July 2017. As a result, the U.S. is a party to the non-international armed conflict in Somalia against al-Shabaab, athough not necessarily all U.S. strikes are linked to this non-international armed conflict. For more, see 'Non-international armed conflict in Somalia'.