In the years since Daesh first swept across Syria and northern Iraq the group has forced some the world’s largest militaries to dramatically re-evaluate their warfighting strategies and capabilities.
Daesh emerged as a thoroughly modern insurgency, exploiting the connected world to communicate securely, sustain its income, disseminate propaganda and coordinate local and global attacks.
In response the US had to rapidly formulate a strategy designed to disrupt the group’s cyber-based lifeline in conjunction with more traditional efforts to push Daesh out of its territorial strongholds.
However, Ash Carter, Defence Secretary from 2015 to 2017 has voiced his opinion on the shortfalls of the US’ cyber war against ISIS in a damning report for the Belfer Centre.
During his tenure at the Department of Defence, Carter grappled with how best to confront the multifaceted threat posed by Daesh which included the launching of offensive cyber operations for the first time since CYBERCOM was established in 2009.
The results and effectiveness of such operations were, in his opinion, disappointing.
‘[CYBERCOM] never produced any effective cyber weapons or techniques…None of our agencies showed very well in the cyber fight,’ Carter stated in the report.
According to Carter the intelligence community unnecessarily delayed and disrupted CYBERCOM’s attempts to launch offensive cyber-attacks.
‘The intelligence community tended to delay or try to prevent its use, claiming cyber operations would hinder intelligence collection.’
The issue of the ‘dual hat’ command has been one of the primary stumbling blocks to creating an effective CYBERCOM.
This dual hat has created friction between the two bodies on whether offensive cyber operations or the NSA’s intelligence gathering efforts should be prioritised.
Despite President Donald Trump’s August announcement that the command has been elevated to a unified combatant command, CYBERCOM continues to share its commander with the NSA.
The current Defence Secretary, Gen James Mattis is overseeing a review into the separation of USCYBERCOM from the National Security Agency (NSA) in an effort to streamline and centralise US cyber strategy.
It is likely that the review will recommend a split, however it remains to be seen whether such a move would end the conflict of interest between CYBERCOM and NSA which has so far neutered US abilities to wage effective offensive cyber operations.