The Islamic State’s cash flow problem surfaced this week with the announcement by its treasury department that the jihadis’ wages would be slashed by half due to “exceptional circumstances.”
This step was first explained by US and Russian air campaigns finally taking their toll of the Islamist terrorists’ resources.
But an investigation by DEBKA Weekly’s counterterrorism sources found causes that were more deep-seated.
Updated data presented at a closed conference of senior officers and anti-terrorism tacticians last weekend at Central Command Headquarters at MacDill Air Force Base in Florida, showed that ISIS was in better shape than President Barack Obama conveyed in his last State of the Union Address.
He reported that ISIS had lost 40 percent of the land it had grabbed in Iraq and 20 percent in Syria.
The Florida conference heard different figures: The Islamists had lost no more than 20 percent of its holdings in Iraq, and just 10-12 percent in Syria.
The Syrian figure was complicated in the last few days by the Islamic State’s acquisition of a large stretch of terrain in the eastern Deir ez-Zor area bordering on Iraq.
Furthermore, US and Russian air raids do not appear to have degraded the ISIS infrastructure for producing, refining and selling oil, a system that is run efficiently by former officers of Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi army, the same ones who devised a smuggling scheme at the end of the 1990s for beating UN sanctions against the Saddam regime.
Neither have ISIS oil revenues, currently estimated at $40 million to $50 million a month, dropped measurably. There has certainly been no slowdown in the vicious human trafficking in women and children, or black market sales of looted archeological treasures.
So why is ISIS strapped for cash?
debkafile’s counterterrorism sources offer three causes:
First, ISIS has reorganized its military forces and logistical networks and adapted them to the shift in priorities from devouring more land in Syria and Iraq to overseas terrorist operations. Our intelligence sources list the recent overseas operations masterminded and funded from the ISIS de facto Syrian capital of Raqqa.
- The downing of the Russian Metrojet airliner in the Sinai Peninsula on Oct. 31 in which all 224 passengers and crew were killed.
- The suicide bombing against Hizballah in Burj al-Barajneh in southern Beirut on November 16 in which 47 people were killed.
- The war on Hizballah in Lebanon. It has scarcely been reported that substantial ISIS forces have occupied two cities and dozens of villages on Hizballah turf in the northern Lebanese Beqaa Valley – a costly enterprise.
- It turns out only now that the Nov. 13 terrorist massacre in Paris which claimed 133 lives was orchestrated by a far-flung network operating out of Raqqa, Brussels, Paris and Rabat, Morocco.
- The attack on the Radisson Blue Hotel in Bamako, capital of Mali, on Nov. 20 which left 22 people dead.
- The mass shooting in San Bernardino, California in which 22 people were murdered.
- The carefully-planned Jan. 8 attack on the Bella Vista Hotel at Egypt’s Red Sea resort of Hurghada, which injured foreigners but failed to reach the horrific level of the Tunisian beach attack of June 26 in which 37 British tourists died. For both attacks, the killers were dropped by boats at targeted beaches for attacks on foreign tourists.
- Finally, the coordinated attacks on the Indonesian capital of Jakarta on January 14 in which four people were murdered. Unlike their US and Western counterparts, Indonesian security and intelligence services did not hesitate to name the attack’s mastermind as Bahrun Naim, who relayed orders to the terrorists from Raqqa via their satellite telephones.
ISIS is stretched financially by the high cost of running a series of major terrorist attacks over a short period of time in different parts of the world. This cost is estimated at $120 million at least and has eaten up the profits of three months of oil sales.
Second, ISIS is investing heavily in the development of unconventional arms, such as nuclear or radioactive weapons and “dirty” bombs, as well as designing improved roadside bombs, antitank and antiaircraft missiles, drones, and cars or trucks packed with explosives. In recent months, the Islamic State has forked out tens of millions of dollars to hire experts from the around the world, who are willing for enormous fees to help develop ISIS’s hi-tech and unconventional munitions industry.
Third, donations from sympathizers in the Muslim world have dropped steeply along with sinking oil prices.