Tag Archives: Islamic extremism

The ISIS Cash

Koban, Syria October 2014

So while Islamic State probably maintains some refining capacity, the majority of the oil in IS territory is refined by locals who operate thousands of rudimentary, roadside furnaces that dot the Syrian desert.  Pentagon officials also acknowledge that for more than a year they avoided striking tanker trucks to limit civilian casualties. “None of these guys are ISIS. We don’t feel right vaporizing them, so we have been watching ISIS oil flowing around for a year,” says Knights. That changed on Nov. 16, 2015 when four U.S. attack planes and two gunships destroyed 116 oil trucks. A Pentagon spokesman says the U.S. first dropped leaflets warning drivers to scatter.

Beyond oil, the caliphate is believed by U.S. officials to have assets including $500 million to $1 billion that it seized from Iraqi bank branches last year, untold “hundreds of millions” of dollars that U.S. officials say are extorted and taxed out of populations under the group’s control, and tens of millions of dollars more earned from looted antiquities and ransoms paid to free kidnap victims….

Arguably the least appreciated resource for Islamic State is its fertile farms. Before even starting the engine of a single tractor, the group is believed to have grabbed as much as $200 million in wheat from Iraqi silos alone.  paid on black markets. And how do you conduct airstrikes on farm fields?  For his part, Bahney contends that the group’s real financial strength is its fanatical spending discipline. Rand estimates the biggest and most important drain on Islamic State’s budget is the salary line for up to 100,000 fighters. But the oil revenue alone could likely pay those salaries almost two times over, Bahney says.

Excerpts from Cam Simpson, Why U.S. Efforts to Cut Off Islamic State’s Funds Have Failed
It’s more than just oil, Nov. 19, 2015

The Grinding War against the Islamic State

Islamic State (IS) insurgents, Anbar Province, Iraq. image from wikipedia

Excerpts from David A. Deptula,  How to Defeat the Islamic State, Washington Post

From the U.S. perspective, the most important goal is not the maintenance of the Iraqi government but the destruction of the Islamic State.  The current U.S.-led coalition is following the counterinsurgency model used in Iraq and Afghanistan for more than a decade, but the Islamic State is not an insurgency. The Islamic State is a self-declared sovereign government. We must stop trying to fight the last war and develop a new strategy.
The Islamic State can be decomposed through a comprehensive and robust air campaign designed to: (1) terminate its expansion; (2) paralyze and isolate its command-and-control capability; (3) undermine its ability to control the territory it occupies; and (4) eliminate its ability to export ­terror.

But to do these things, air power has to be applied like a thunderstorm, not a drizzle. In the campaign against the Islamic State, we are averaging 12 strike sorties per day. During Operation Desert Storm in Iraq and Kuwait in 1991, the average was 1,241; in Operation Allied Force in Kosovo in 1999, it was 298; in the first 30 days of Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003, 691; during Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan in 2001, 86.

In the past two decades, several strategic victories were brought about by air power operating in conjunction with indigenous ground forces — none of which were better than the Iraqi army. Robust air power, along with a few air controllers, carried the Northern Alliance to victory over the Taliban, at minimal cost in blood and treasure to the United States. Bosnia, Kosovo and Libya similarly involved airstrikes well in excess of those being used against the Islamic State.
Complicating the effort to defeat the Islamic State is an excessive focus on the avoidance of collateral damage and casualties. In an armed conflict, the military establishes rules of engagement designed to balance the moral imperative to minimize damage and unintentional casualties against what’s required to accomplish the mission. Recently reported by pilots actually fighting the Islamic State is that the current rules — which far exceed accepted “Law of War” standards — impose excessive restrictions that work to the advantage of the enemy. The ponderous and unnecessary set of procedures in place is allowing the Islamic State to exploit our desire to avoid civilian causalities to commit atrocities on the ground…

The best way to improve our force effectiveness while still minimizing collateral damage and casualties is to allow them to use their judgment. This is called “mission command,” and the Pentagon should empower our aviators to employ it.

The fastest way to end the inhumanity of war is to eliminate its source — in this case, the Islamic State — as quickly as possible. Gradualism doomed the effectiveness of air power in the “Rolling Thunder” air campaign from 1965 to 1968 during the Vietnam War. The current gradualist approach is worsening the suffering and increasing the loss of innocent life. While unintended casualties of war are regrettable, those associated with airstrikes pale in comparison with the savage acts being carried out by the Islamic State. What is the logic of a policy that restricts the use of air power to avoid the possibility of collateral damage while allowing the certainty of the Islamic State’s crimes against humanity?

This does not have to be a “long war,” as has been claimed by those whose politics benefit from that assertion, as well as those whose experience is rooted in counterinsurgency. The counterinsurgency operations in Iraq and Afghanistan went on for eight and 14 years, respectively. Desert Storm took 43 days; Bosnia’s Operation Deliberate Force, 22 days; Allied Force, 78 days; the decisive phase of Enduring Freedom took 60 days. A robust air campaign can devastate the Islamic State to the point where Iraqi and Kurdish forces can end the occupation.

Excerpts from David A. Deptula How to defeat the Islamic State, Washington Post, June 5, 2015

How to Create a State from Scratch: the Islamic State

Islamic state  flag over the ancient Palmyra city of Syria
If sentiment in the towns in or bordering the so-called “caliphate” of Islamic State (IS) is anything to go by, the jihadists are winning the war. “IS is here to stay,” a doctor in Falluja says of the group’s grip on Anbar, Iraq’s largest province. It is a sharp reversal from just a few months ago, when the campaign against IS seemed to be going quite well…[A]fter the retreat of Syrian regime forces from Palmyra, the black flag of IS now flies over the ancient city; while Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province, Iraq, fell on May 17th. The idea that IS was in retreat has thus taken a severe jolt.

Barack Obama describes the loss of Ramadi as a mere “tactical setback”. But a blame game has since broken out.   In any case the group’s [IS] recent successes owe more to the weakness of the forces opposing it than to its own strength. The regime of Bashar Assad in Syria is looking wobblier than at any time since 2012. Its army fled Palmyra. Although Iraq’s Shia militias put up a good fight in places, its Shia-dominated and often badly led army is reluctant to fight and die for Sunni territory. Unless it improves the jihadists may advance further. The government remains reluctant to arm the Sunni tribesmen who might defend their homes.

The recent gains by IS also do little to address its weaknesses. It needs to generate huge funds to maintain its pretension to be a caliphate, yet its income streams, such as those from illicit oil sales, ransoms and looted antiquities, are all vulnerable to concerted pressure and windfalls from conquest are dwindling.

Its top-down structure leaves it vulnerable to “kill or capture” raids by American special forces (like one in Syria on May 15th that resulted in the death of Abu Sayyaf, the outfit’s financial brain). A more concerted air campaign could also set it back. Western forces are managing a meagre 15 strikes a day (compared with the 50 a day NATO carried out against Qaddafi’s less formidable forces in Libya). Mr McCain says that 75% of sorties fail to fire a weapon or drop a bomb, because targets are not identified. That might change if America provided forward air controllers.

The state of the caliphate: The fortunes of war, Economist, May 30, 2015

Social Networking in the Fight against Terrorism

In the Netherlands, the jailhouse recantation of a convicted terrorist renouncing violence has circulated online. Counterterrorism officials say it could make disaffected youth think twice about joining violent extremist ranks.In Pakistan, the authorities are posting on YouTube gruesome videos of mosques bombed by Islamic extremists, to show that such attacks kill fellow Muslims.  And here in Saudi Arabia, a government-supported program has enlisted hundreds of Islamic scholars turned bloggers to fight online radicalization by challenging the interpretations of the Koran posted on extremist social networking forums.

In recent years, governments and allied grass-roots advocacy groups had largely ceded cyberspace to extremists, who use the Internet to recruit, raise money, spread their ideology and disseminate instructions on bomb-making and other terrorist techniques. Governments have carried out covert operations to undermine or take down extremist Web sites, but many pop back within days or weeks.

Now these governments, often working with international organizations like the United Nations and European Union, and more quietly with private or nonprofit groups, are opening a counterattack to try to undermine the appeal of terrorists, expose their lack of legitimacy, and attack the credibility of their ideology and online messengers.

Counterterrorism officials from more than 30 countries met here last week under the auspices of the United Nations and Naif Arab University to share tactics and strategies on how to use the Internet to counter the appeal of extremist violence.  “The terrorist message, for all its deviancy and destructiveness, has gone unchallenged for too long,” said Richard Barrett, a conference organizer who heads a United Nations office that monitors sanctions on Al Qaeda and the Taliban.

Many of these efforts to counter violent extremism on the Web are just getting off the ground. In some cases, small local initiatives are having success, and could find wider use globally, but many others have foundered.  Officials measuring the campaigns acknowledge that finding the right messengers — from extremists who have renounced their pasts to Pakistani cricket stars who presumably have wide appeal among the youth solicited by both sides — is as important as tailoring messages about the issues that attract people to violent extremism.

There are signs that the new campaigns may be having at least a temporary impact. Evan F. Kohlmann, who tracks militant Web sites at the security consulting firm Flashpoint Global Partners, said a growing number of extremist forums are using password-protected sites to thwart hackers and dissenters.  Counterterrorism officials acknowledge the challenge in coming up with an effective counter to Al Qaeda’s simple but powerful narrative: that the United States and the West are at war with Islam; that Muslims are unjustly discriminated against and persecuted; and that only violent action can bring change.  “Communicating on the Internet leads to a virtual ideological ghetto of like-minded jihadists,” said Wil Van Gemert, a senior counterterrorism official in the Dutch Interior Ministry.

Sidney Jones, an expert on Islamic terrorism at the International Crisis Group’s branch in Jakarta, said a 6,000-word critique of an Indonesian extremist group posted on several radical Web sites last March offered insights that could be used in broader counter-radicalization campaigns. The critique was disseminated after the Indonesian counterterrorism police raided an extremist training camp in Aceh, in northern Sumatra.  “It argued that by running off to the jungle with guns and losing so many of its members, the movement was depleting its own resources and undermining its prospects for victory,” Ms. Jones wrote in a paper for the conference here.

Without credible messengers, however, even the most effective message will fail, counterterrorism experts say.  In Saudi Arabia, the independent, nongovernmental Sakinah campaign, supported by the Ministry of Islamic Affairs, uses Islamic scholars who oppose terrorism to interact online with seekers of religious knowledge.  This approach is turning up elsewhere. “We need to use the Koran to persuade others,” said Hamoud al-Hitar, Yemen’s minister of religious endowment and Islamic affairs, whose program results have been mixed.

In the Netherlands, counterterrorism officials hailed a letter written last November from jail by the convicted terrorist Jason Walters, who called on his brethren to abandon violence. Mr. Walters, formerly of the Hofstad Group, an organization of Islamists largely of Moroccan origin, had been convicted in 2006 for wounding four police officers in a grenade attack while resisting arrest two years earlier.

The United States government has struggled in the years since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks to develop an effective campaign to counter the ideology and messages of Al Qaeda and other extremist groups. In one measure, the State Department is overhauling and expanding its digital response teams that counter violent extremist messages.  Mr. Kohlmann of Flashpoint Global Partners said, “The problem is, you don’t have people in the U.S. government who are of the right generation to understand how social networking works, and at the same time who are knowledgeable enough about the Muslim world.”

ERIC SCHMITT, Governments Go Online in Fight Against Terrorism, NY Times, January 31, 2011, at A5