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FRONTLINE: Confronting ISIS

A neighborhood in Tikrit, Iraq, that was destroyed by Shia militia as acts of retribution toward Sunni residents who they believe harbored ISIS.
Courtesy of Martin Smith/FRONTLINE
A neighborhood in Tikrit, Iraq, that was destroyed by Shia militia as acts of retribution toward Sunni residents who they believe harbored ISIS.

Airs Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2016 at 9 p.m. on KPBS TV

Investigate the U.S.-led efforts to degrade and destroy ISIS.

One of the biggest foreign policy challenges America’s next president will face is the battle against ISIS. Where does the US-led fight against the terror group stand today?

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In "Confronting ISIS," veteran FRONTLINE correspondent Martin Smith travels to five countries with key roles in the anti-ISIS fight — Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Syria, Jordan and Turkey — to report on successes, failures and challenges as ISIS loses ground in the region but strikes out with attacks abroad.

“We’ve found that the conditions that helped give rise to ISIS in the first place, including sectarianism, are still prevailing in many cases — and that America’s priorities and those of our allies don’t always align,” says Smith, who has been documenting conflicts in the Middle East for FRONTLINE for 15 years, most recently in "Obama's War," "The Rise of ISIS," and "Inside Assad’s Syria."

Beginning with the fall of Mosul to ISIS in 2014, this two-hour special deeply examines two years of American-led efforts to defeat ISIS, taking viewers step-by-step through a number of initiatives involving different regional players.

Veteran FRONTLINE correspondent Martin Smith in a bunker about a half mile or less from ISIS in the town of Qayarah, Iraq – a key holding only recently taken back by coalition forces. FRONTLINE investigates the U.S.-led efforts to degrade and destroy ISIS. Reporting from Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Jordan and Turkey, FRONTLINE correspondent Martin Smith examines the successes, failures, and challenges of the fight, as ISIS loses ground in the region but strikes out abroad.
Courtesy of FRONTLINE
Veteran FRONTLINE correspondent Martin Smith in a bunker about a half mile or less from ISIS in the town of Qayarah, Iraq – a key holding only recently taken back by coalition forces. FRONTLINE investigates the U.S.-led efforts to degrade and destroy ISIS. Reporting from Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Jordan and Turkey, FRONTLINE correspondent Martin Smith examines the successes, failures, and challenges of the fight, as ISIS loses ground in the region but strikes out abroad.

Smith gains rare access across the region and beyond. He travels with one of Iraq’s Shia militia groups, as well as Kurdish Peshmerga fighters who are less than a mile from ISIS. He also meets the father of a Jordanian pilot who was burned to death by ISIS, and sits down for candid interviews with leaders including current and former U.S. Secretaries of Defense Ashton Carter and Chuck Hagel, embattled Iraqi president Haider al-Abadi, and Saudi Arabia’s controversial Grand Mufti, Abdul Aziz Sheikh.

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In the process, he finds a fundamental problem: At times, the White House’s narrow focus on defeating ISIS hasn’t always aligned with the top issues faced by America’s allies — from how to deal with Bashar al-Assad in Syria, to Saudi Arabia’s fears about Iran, to the war in Yemen, to the Kurdish-Turkish conflict.

“The challenge, of course, we've had in the Middle East… they all are concerned about ISIL. There is no question about that. But they don’t always rank… their concerns in the same order that we do,” Colin Kahl, Deputy Assistant to the President, tells FRONTLINE.

"Confronting ISIS" also explores tension between the Obama White House and the Pentagon about how best to address the ISIS threat, and raises tough questions about the shape of the Middle East once ISIS is defeated.

A village in Northern Iraq, destroyed mostly by coalition airstrikes. FRONTLINE investigates the U.S.-led efforts to degrade and destroy ISIS. Reporting from Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Jordan and Turkey, FRONTLINE correspondent Martin Smith examines the successes, failures, and challenges of the fight, as ISIS loses ground in the region but strikes out abroad.
Courtesy of Martin Smith/FRONTLINE
A village in Northern Iraq, destroyed mostly by coalition airstrikes. FRONTLINE investigates the U.S.-led efforts to degrade and destroy ISIS. Reporting from Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Jordan and Turkey, FRONTLINE correspondent Martin Smith examines the successes, failures, and challenges of the fight, as ISIS loses ground in the region but strikes out abroad.

“You’re not gonna get the buy-in of the region where you have a very narrow tactical objective, and where you don’t have any solution for the day after you destroy ISIS,” Vali Nasr, dean of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, tells FRONTLINE.

In the runup to the 2016 presidential election, "Confronting ISIS" is a deep history of America’s anti-ISIS efforts, an in-depth look at what the next president will inherit — and an important watch before you vote.

"Confronting ISIS premieres Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2016 on PBS and will stream in full, for free, online at pbs.org/frontline.

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CREDITS:

A FRONTLINE production with Rain Media. The writer, producer and correspondent is Martin Smith. The producer is Linda Hirsch. The executive producer for FRONTLINE is Raney Aronson-Rath.

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