The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL; Arabic: الدولة الإسلامية في العراق والشام), also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS, /ˈaɪsɨs/), the Islamic State of Iraq and ash-Sham, Daesh, or simply Islamic State (IS), is a Wahhabi/Salafi jihadist extremist militant group, self-proclaimed to be a caliphate and Islamic state. It is led by and mainly composed of Sunni Arabs from Iraq and Syria. As of March 2015, it has control over territory occupied by 10 million people in Iraq and Syria, and through loyal local groups, has control over small areas of Libya, Nigeria and Afghanistan. The group also operates or has affiliates in other parts of the world, including North Africa and South Asia.
10 Things You Need To Know About ISIS
Analysis: Beating ISIS will take an army -- and an end goal
By Dylan Lee Lehrke
Editor's Note: Dylan Lee Lehrke is the North Atlantic analyst on the IHS Jane's Military Capabilities Desk. He served in the U.S. Army infantry from 1996 to 1999, deploying to Kuwait and Bosnia. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.
(CNN) In the wake of the terrorist attacks in Paris, France ratcheted up its bombing campaign against ISIS in Syria, and British Prime Minister David Cameron wants Parliament to let him do the same.
But while the French and British moves are an important political signal in support of an ally, they can hardly be expected to be a game changer on the battlefield.
ISIS cannot be defeated through a bombing campaign alone.
Airstrikes can degrade the group, but ultimately ground forces will be needed to defeat ISIS, both in Iraq and Syria.
The question is, who will provide that ground force?
At this point, it is highly unlikely the Western-backed Syrian opposition could field the necessary army. The training and equipping of this force has been entirely inadequate, and it is too fragmented politically.
Western nations do not have the political will or military capability to undertake a protracted land operation with the required numbers, and such an effort would risk serious backlash regardless of "good intentions."
A coalition of Middle East states is also unfeasible given their differing agendas and lack of combat experience.
------------------- No perfect option
The most viable candidates to be the boots in the sand facing ISIS are Bashar al-Assad's Syrian army forces, the Kurdish Pershmerga and the military forces of Iraq.
However, none of these forces is being properly empowered because the anti-ISIS coalition -- the Western countries in particular -- are uncertain of the geopolitical ends they are seeking.
Assad's forces can't be supported without compromising democracy. The Kurds can't be supported without angering Turkey, and the Iraqi military cannot be supported without buoying Shia power over the Sunni minority in Iraq.
There are a legion of political decisions that must be made before military action can be effective. The place of the Kurds in the Middle East must be determined. The future of the Assad regime in Syria needs to be agreed upon. Most importantly, rapprochement between the Sunnis and Shiites in Iraq and across the Middle East needs to be advanced.
All this is vital because only once the political goal is decided upon will it at last be feasible to develop the military means to achieve those ends.
It is ill-advised to have only the goal of eliminating ISIS and leaving a vacuum.
No doubt, all of this will require a huge political effort, but it must be undertaken with as much visibility as the current bombing.
Air power supporting ground troops
Once an end state is determined, airstrikes will be much more effective because they can be undertaken in support of ground forces. Troops will be able to advance on the battlefield first and then take advantage of the strategic effects of bombing.
This dynamic of Western air power supporting local proxy armies was responsible for success in both Kosovo and Afghanistan.
As part of this air campaign, it will also be vital that special forces be present on the ground providing forward air control and advising. This will entail some risk, as will providing close air support with rotary-wing assets and intelligence assets. However, large numbers of outside forces will not be required.
At this point, if there is any success against ISIS, it is likely to be dictated by Russia despite the shooting down of a Russian jet by Turkey on Tuesday.
This is because by siding with Assad, Russian President Vladimir Putin has a proxy ground army with which Russia can cooperate to advance on the battlefield. Already this approach is seeing some results, albeit at a humanitarian and military cost.
-------------- Unity or chaos
However, any success is likely to be limited unless the vast anti-ISIS coalition comes together with a common objective. If there is no unity of action, the region will remain chaotic and at the mercy of force of arms. It is in this context that groups such as ISIS thrive.
But of course the military cannot rest while political negotiations are working out the future for the region.
So what can be done in the interim? The correct approach was identified by T.E. Lawrence almost a century ago. He noted that "standing still" in an "irregular war, was the prelude to disaster."
ISIS feeds on chaos, and thus the key is not to overreact and cause more chaos. The U.S. 9/11 Commission noted that Osama bin Laden wanted the United States to overreact to the al Qaeda attacks on New York and Washington.
There is a high probability that ISIS is hoping for the same response to the attack on Paris. Instead, the military strategy should focus on ensuring ISIS forces stand still.
Here is where the airstrikes have been effective and can continue to be for a time. They have not turned ISIS around, but the group's blitzkrieg has ended, and it has stagnated.
If this can be maintained, it could provide time for political solutions to be sought, which will be the prelude to an effective counterattack.
The Secret History of ISIS (Part 1)
The inside story of the radicals who became the leaders of ISIS, the missed warning signs and the U.S. failures to stop the group’s brutal rise.
The Secret History of ISIS (Part 2)
The inside story of how a small band of fanatical jihadi fighters became the world's richest terror army ever. Featuring the first major TV interview with an imprisoned senior leader of the so-called Islamic State, Peter Taylor looks behind its medieval savagery and investigates how it became so fabulously rich and resilient.
The jihadist militant group called the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), also sometimes referred to as the Islamic State (IS), has emerged as the biggest terrorist threat faced by the world in recent times. In April 2015, the BBC called it the World’s Richest Terror Army. The net worth of this militant organization was pegged at about USD 2 billion that month. ISIS has been able to amass such a vast amount of resources and finances due to meticulous planning and superb organizational management, experts believe. How did this illegal terrorist outfit become the richest of its kind?
The Islamic State earns about USD 3 million in a single day. Most of this wealth comes from controlling oil wells and through oil trade. Apart from this, the group earns a neat amount of finances through mafia-like activities such as smuggling, kidnapping, extortion, human trafficking and slavery, and looting financial institutions.
ISIS - The World’s Richest Terror Army (Part 1)
The biggest source of funds to power the ISIS comes from the group’s control over the oil fields in eastern Syria and elsewhere in its regime. Selling oil from these captured oil wells is a major source of income. While international sanctions are in place, there are more than enough buyers in the black market. More so since the oil coming from ISIS wells is sold at a discount of USD 25 to USD 60 per barrel in comparison to the international oil market. The oil fields captured by the ISIS produce enough oil to fetch the organization over USD 2 million a day. Early reports said that the group owned a number of oil fields in Hasakah and the Euphrates Valley. Refineries that produce diesel and petrol too were taken over by ISIS militants. This is now the backbone of the group’s financial inflow.
Spoils of the War
ISIS is believed to have amassed a large amount of wealth by looting the banks and financial institutions in cities under its control. Even as the group continues to spread its base and newer towns fall to its jihadist army, the spoils of war are collected from the banks and from rich households apart from commercial centers. In June 2014, ISIS terror army was reported to have raided the Central Bank of Mosul and collected wealth amounting to over 500 billion Iraqi Dinars (approximately USD 429 million) in currency and gold. These are merely official reports and unofficial sources say that the spoils from the central bank may be much more. With this looting the ISIS became richer than a number of small countries and nations states of the world.
One of the biggest expenses borne by the ISIS is towards ammunition, war equipment, vehicles, and gunnery. By securing victories in towns such as Fallujah (May 2015), the ISIS has now seized huge quantities of ammunition, guns, mines and explosives, and military vehicles – making the group that much richer. Most of these supplies were donated by the U.S. military that has been supporting the war against ISIS.
Ransom and Extortion
One of the key sources of income for the ISIS is extortion and ransom from kidnapping. News reports say that Iraqi intelligence suspects the IS to make about USD 1 million a month only from extortion in the city of Mosul. The levies, or taxes as they are called, are imposed on all businesses. Transport and real estate business owners cough up huge amounts on demand, news reports suggest.
Another source of income for the ISIS is through the sale of antiques and historic artifacts from the museums and ancient temples in the regions under its control. Most of these are smuggled out to other Middle Eastern countries or to Turkey and sold to private collectors. News reports have said that the ISIS has smuggled out about USD 36 million worth artifacts (some about 8000 years old) from al-Nabuk, near Damascus.
Ransom from kidnappings also is a significant source of income, news reports suggest. In this matter, though, there is lack of concrete evidence but it seems that the ISIS is given to kidnapping French and Spanish nationals and demanding multi-million dollar ransoms from the governments. Though unreported, these governments are believed to have paid the amount. Similarly wealthy Arabs are believed to have been kidnapped for ransom. None of these parties have reported any of these activities, though.
ISIS - The World’s Richest Terror Army (Part 2)
In the early days of its inception, the ISIS depended heavily on private funding from rich individuals from Gulf countries and also from Islamic charities sympathetic to the Jihadist cause. It is also believed that the jihadists and ISIS followers have infiltrated the social security systems of many European nations thus manipulating government and NGO funds towards their cause. It is suspected that many wealthy Sunni Arabs from the Middle Eastern nations still remain private funders for the organization.
It is suspected that the highest private funding received by the ISIS may come from Qatar, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia. These countries may be privately funding a proxy way in the region – particularly on neighboring countries such as Tunisia.
Human Trafficking and Slavery
According to recent reports, human trafficking seems to be a significant source of income for the ISIS. The group sells women and children as sex slaves. Since the emergence of the ISIS, about 10,000 women and even young girls have been abducted and trafficked, claim human rights groups. Many of them are offered as rewards (sex slaves) to the fighters or sold into prostitution and slavery for money. Most of the women captured are from the Yazidi minority groups. The ISIS earns between USD 200 and 20000 for each of the woman sold. Most of them are trafficked into the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, or Syria.
ISIS - The World’s Richest Terror Army (Part 3)
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Islamic State militants in Syria and Iraq are netting between $150 million and $200 million a year from illicit trade in plundered antiquities, Russia's ambassador to the United Nations said in a letter released on Wednesday.
"Around 100,000 cultural objects of global importance, including 4,500 archaeological sites, nine of which are included in the World Heritage List of ... UNESCO, are under the control of the Islamic State ... in Syria and Iraq," Ambassador Vitaly Churkin wrote in a letter to the U.N. Security Council. "The profit derived by the Islamists from the illicit trade in antiquities and archaeological treasures is estimated at U.S. $150-200 million per year," he said.
The smuggling of artifacts, Churkin wrote, is organized by Islamic State's antiquities division in the group's equivalent of a ministry for natural resources. Only those who have a permit with a stamp from this division are permitted to excavate, remove and transport antiquities.
Some details of the group's war spoils department were previously revealed by Reuters, which reviewed some of the documents seized by U.S. Special Operations Forces in a May 2015 raid in Syria.
But many details in Churkin's letter appeared to be new.
The envoy from Russia, which has repeatedly accused Turkey of supporting Islamic State by purchasing oil from the group, said plundered antiquities were largely smuggled through Turkish territory.
"The main center for the smuggling of cultural heritage items is the Turkish city of Gaziantep, where the stolen goods are sold at illegal auctions and then through a network of antique shops and at the local market," Churkin wrote.
Turkish officials were not immediately available for comment on the Russian allegations. Russian-Turkish relations have been strained ever since Turkey shot down a Russian plane near the Syrian border last November.
Churkin said jewelry, coins and other looted items are brought to the Turkish cities of Izmir, Mersin and Antalya, where criminal groups produce fake documents on their origin.
"The antiquities are then offered to collectors from various countries, generally through Internet auction sites such as eBay and specialized online stores," he said. Churkin named several other Internet auction sites that he said sold antiquities plundered by Islamic State. "Recently ISIL has been exploiting the potential of social media more and more frequently so as to cut out the middleman and sell artifacts directly to buyers," he said.
EBay said it was not aware of the allegations that it was being used to sell plundered items.
"eBay has absolutely zero interest in having illicit listings of cultural or historical goods appear on our platforms," it said. "We're currently looking into the claims of this letter."
"To date, we are not aware of any direct evidence of listings for items on eBay that resulted from ISIL looting or similar activity," it added.
Who Manages the Finances?
The financial resources of the ISIS are, surprisingly, very well managed, say experts. Abu Salah, (real name – Muafaq Mustafa Mohammed al-Karmoush) is believed to be the financial brain behind the organization’s workings, especially in Iraq. The jihadists and soldiers of the ISIS terror army seem to be very well compensated. Each month the senior and medium level commanders are believed to receive salaries between USD 300 and USD 2000. Suicide bombers are compensated for their lives and their families are well cared for.
The key to winning the war against the ISIS may lie with breaking their financial backbone. It is a difficult task requiring a multi-pronged approach and international cooperation of the highest order.