Though some reports from western countries are trying to portray that ISIS is losing its foothold but the reality draws a completely different picture.
ISIS has grown tremendously since its beginnings as a spinoff group from al-Qaida, generating revenue from each territory it has conquered. It has recently been called the world’s richest terrorist group, with an estimated $2 billion on hand. Further the group is now expanding its presence outside Middle East and is in process to utilize the social platform to propagate its agenda.
Since claiming responsibility for the Paris attacks in November, ISIS has increased its violent acts in Europe and the Middle East. The emergence of ISIS and its claims to have established a caliphate have an impact on South-east Asia and other regions. The threat will continue over the next decade. The claim of the ISIS-proclaimed caliphate to oversight over Muslims around the world has strong emotional appeal and resonates with many Muslims, even in South-east Asia.
Though US and its allies are taking credit of destroying the ISIS, the reality is that the terrorist group is increasing its source of funding and utilizing all resources to develop modern weapons and spreading their messages through all media platforms.
Through the exploitation of known smuggling routes on Turkey’s border, it has used the black market to sell oil, natural resources and looted goods. Similarly, the group has profited from banks lacking in sanctions and wire controls of laundered money and illegally donated funds.
ISIS’s criminal activities have made it the most-funded terrorist group in history. The accumulation of its sizable wealth has allowed the group to increase its operational scope, attain weapons and resources and recruit local and foreign fighters. ISIS has around 100,000 fighters a number which is growing fast.
ISIS’s quest for funding began long before it seized oil fields in northern Iraq and eastern Syria. The terror group began utilizing methods of extortion and imposing tariffs. The territories ISIS conquered were chosen carefully, with its strongholds set up in areas where it could achieve maximum funding for its cause.
ISIS militants were extorting local business owners along their journey to set up strongholds. They began with the Syrian province of Raqqa, continued into Iraq through Fallujah and ended in Mosul. They would demand payment, and if they did not receive it, they would respond with violence or kidnapping. ISIS is believed to be taking in an estimated $3 million a day in illicit proceeds to fund its cause.
ISIS has laid claim to many Iraqi stocks of Soviet, Chinese, and American originated equipment. Despite coalition air strikes against their positions and money-making sources, ISIS remains a great threat to the stability of the region. Most of ISIS’s weapons were apparently looted from the Iraqi and Syrian armies. ISIS also received weapons from rebel organizations in Syria.
ISIS has light arms, various types of rockets (standard and locally produced), mortars, anti-tank missiles and launchers, and anti-aircraft weapons. It also has Humvees captured from the Iraqi army during the occupation of Mosul, as well as Toyotas mounted with machine guns.
The organization has tanks, various types of artillery, various types of shoulder-launched anti-aircraft missiles, one or more Scud missiles, one or more MIG-21s, air-to-surface missiles and various types of armored vehicles.
ISIS propagandists have released pictures of the sophisticated and devastating weapons it wields as part of its campaign of terror across the Middle East - including heavy tanks.
The militants showed off their military power as part of their slick PR campaign-but fail to mention they rarely use their armoured vehicles because they are an easy target for the warplanes of Russia, America, Britain and France.
Much of the weaponry used by Islamic State fighters was supplied by the same Western powers now trying to bomb it out of existence. Huge supplies of guns, rifles, mortars and missiles have been flowing into Iraq for years as the state struggled to retain control after British and American forces withdrew. ISIS fighters acquired a windfall of internationally manufactured arms after taking control of Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, in June, 2014. They included US-manufactured weapons and military vehicles which they then used to take control of other parts of the country.
It was believed that ISIS lacks airpower capabilities but it has now reinforced its drone arsenal as it prepares to carry out more horrific attacks. The group is now purchasing more drones as a critical mean for surveillance and unmanned attacks.
ISIS is now even using balloons to spy on its enemies. ISIS Jihadis have used bizarre balloons the children’s cartoon character as drones. Recently Iraqi forces found suspicious unmanned objects floating which turned out to be primitive drones-with the balloons floating along with cameras attached to gain crucial military intelligence.
The group generates funds through the following:
• Donations from wealthy individuals from the Persian Gulf
• Kidnapping and ransom
• Human trafficking
• Extortion, taxes and checkpoints
• Control over natural resources
• Oil smuggling
According to a recent report ISIS operates its own research lab that is developing weapons of unprecedented sophistication. Islamic State has the ability to refurbish thousands of retired guided missiles. The terrorist group, it appears, has developed a way to replace a missile’s thermal battery-which is extremely difficult-and reactive many of these derelict weapons. It’s a feat that no terrorist group has accomplished previously. Militants are reportedly developing surface-to-air missiles that can hit airliners and military jets.
The IS engineers appear to have also designed a self-made thermal battery-a critical part of a heat-seeking warhead, and a technological breakthrough of the jihadist terror group. If true, Islamic State may now recommission thousands of missiles assumed by western governments to be out-fashioned through old age.
Further, the terror group has produced working remote controlled cars designed to be used as mobile bombs-effectively a poor man’s cruise missile. The terrorists have fitted the vehicles with mannequins with self-regulating thermostats to produce a human-like infrared signature. That could potentially allow the car bombs to evade detection.
ISIS is capable of managing modern hi tech weapons with the help of recruited electronic engineers and computer programmers that graduated from various western universities.
Thus ISIS is an extraordinary example of a terrorist organization that acquired quasi-national financial capabilities though military success. The large sums of money generating every month liberate it from dependence on Al-Qaeda and donors in the Arab-Muslim world, and provide it with financial independence. That enables it to increase the number of its fighters, feeds the momentum of its military successes, allows it to establish alternative governmental systems in its self-declared Caliphate State and to wage an intensive battle for hearts and minds throughout the world to glorify its reputation and increases its capabilities.
ISIS is using propaganda films to spread its message and is succeeding to a large extent. By releasing videos of happy civilians, captured tanks, and heavily armed soldiers, the Islamic State gives potential recruits the sense that they would be serving a good cause, with cool guns and vehicles to help them beat back the enemies of Allah.
Isis has seen success through YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, and other social media. Amateur videos and images are also being uploaded daily by its footsoldiers, which are then globally disseminated, both by ordinary users and mainstream news organisations hungry for images of a conflict their own cameras cannot access. Isis’s global media operation appears to have two key objectives: to provoke the US and its allies, and to recruit from outside the Middle East. Both seem to be working.
The full extent of Isis’s media ambitions can be seen in the output of its “Al Hayat Media Center”. Al Hayat Media is specifically aimed at non-Arabic speakers, particularly younger viewers, and its output is closer to mainstream broadcast standards than anything else Islamic extremism has yet produced. It makes programs in several languages-primarily German, English and French-and multiple formats, from minute-long, Twitter-friendly “Mujatweets” to an hour-long “documentary”. It also publishes audio content and an English-language PDF magazine.
Like any business or government, the Islamic State churns out a feed of regular announcements via social media that gives appearance of normality. Dabiq is a monthly English-language online publication that has higher production values than many Western magazines. It discusses issues of politics, faith, jihad, and bomb-making.
Isis fighters from Finland, Indonesia, Belgium, the UK and other countries in such broadcasts speak of how happy they are to be with ISIS. From its start, social media has been integral to ISIS’s rise. It enables ISIS militants to raise its prestige among terror groups, and overtake older jihadist competitors like al-Qaeda. It serves to coordinate troops and win battles. And it allows the group to administer the territory under its control. Rather than calling followers to the front lines, ISIS’s social-media strategy cultivates them at home in the US, Europe, Africa, and Asia. And it can use those followers to devastating effect.
ISIS militants cultivate vulnerable recruits with sympathetic messages, and engage them via secure messaging services. Recruiters will occasionally ship gifts to the targets-and sometimes, even an airline ticket. If the recruit cannot travel, they are encouraged to launch terror attacks at home.
Rather than a centralized master plan or single person in charge, the Islamic State’s social media campaign is networked, reflecting the networked nature of the space. The core of ISIS is seasoned veterans of the Iraqi insurgency. Well versed in the power of the media, they have been joined by a new generation of Millennial recruits. The average age of foreign fighters who traveled to join ISIS is 24, meaning tools like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are what they’ve grown up with.
For Western authorities, however, the message is clear: Islamic State’s ambitions, capabilities and dangers cannot be easily discounted.
For the past few months, the US, British and other western forces have been back in Iraq, supposedly in the cause of destroying ISIS. But the campaign isn’t going well. Americans insist they are trying to avoid civilian casualties, and claim significant successes. Privately, officials say they don’t want to be seen hammering Sunni strongholds in a sectarian war and risk upsetting their Sunni allies in the Gulf.
Recently few European nations have joined hands with the US for taking part in air raids against ISIS. Being much closer to the region, Europe feels the effect of the humanitarian catastrophe and the flow of refugees. It faces a much greater danger from growing numbers of its youths traveling to Syria to join the extremist brigades of ISIS.
American forces bomb one set of rebels while backing another in Syria, and mount what are effectively joint military operations with Iran against Isis in Iraq while supporting Saudi Arabia’s military campaign against Iranian-backed Houthi forces in Yemen. With this confuses policy what’s clear is that ISIS won’t be defeated by the same powers that brought it to Iraq and Syria.
Endless western military interventions in the Middle East have brought only destruction and division. Countries fighting ISIS needs to understand that US will soon be tempted to cut loose and turn its attention to other parts of the world like Asia, once some of its goals have been achieved via bombing. After that Europe would then be left, along with the Middle Eastern players, to live with the consequences.
Therefore a strategic planning is required to deal with ISIS which takes care of political, humanitarian, and regional peace issues. Otherwise considering the ambitious and ever expanding plans of ISIS the region should be ready to face dire consequences.