ISIS is unique among most terrorist organizations in that it has become largely self-financing, according to a new Washington Free Beacon report by Bill Gertz. Between oil sales, taxation of people within the territory they control, illicit sale of artifacts, the seizure of state-owned bank accounts, and kidnapping and extortion, the Islamic State raked in $1 billion in 2014. Moreover, ISIS possesses between $20 billion and $50 billion in captured military equipment, some of which includes the most sophisticated American weapons in existence provided to the Iraqi Army and unceremoniously captured by ISIS terrorists.
The good news is that the Islamic State has a lot of expenses as well. Besides waging war against civilization, it has to administer the territory it controls and run a sophisticated social media network to recruit foreign fighters. Therefore, the best way to attack ISIS may not be with planes and troops, at least at first. The Islamic State can be undermined through the world financial system upon which it seems to depend, to keep operating.
To be sure, part of that strategy would be to bomb the Islamic State’s oil infrastructure, wrecking oil refineries and pipelines. If ISIS can’t process and sell oil to outside customers, it will take a great financial hit.
The main effort, though, is being waged by accountants and computer experts, locating and cutting off the flow of money to and from the Islamic State. Without access to the world financial markets, the ability of ISIS to maintain its vast arsenal of military equipment will be greatly impacted. The effort is proving to be difficult, likely because ISIS has become adroit at using shell companies and otherwise hiding the way it moves money around.
Foreign recruits have also proven to be a source of income. When someone living in the West decides to travel to the Islamic State to join ISIS, he or she usually carries their life’s savings, of which the Islamic State gets a cut. Cutting off the flow of recruits to the Islamic State is an ongoing problem.
Of course, undermining the financial integrity of the Islamic State and isolating it from the world is just the first step in the needed process of wiping it off the face of the Earth. That process will take military force comprised of well trained and motivated young men with enough firepower to overcome ISIS zeal. Collapsing the Islamic State homeland in Syria and Iraq will not be enough, either. ISIS is operating in diverse countries such as Yemen, Afghanistan, and Libya. It likely has sleeper cells throughout Europe and North America, ready to strike on command. The campaign to root out and end what President Obama once so ill-advisedly called the “JV team” will be a long and arduous one that will take time and cost lives and treasure.