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Does ISIS keep its same military strength?

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THE LEVANT EXCLUSIVE — By: Jasim Muhammad* — Translated by Hadi Nehme —

Investigations carried out by the NGO specialized in investigating military clashes, CAR, showed that ISIS seized most of the weapons it now owns, from previous ground clashes. This conclusion was drawn after experts from CAR visited northern Syria and northern Iraq between June and August 2014, and examined the sources of arms that Kurdish fighters found in many areas previously controlled by ISIS (Daesh).
CAR chief, James Beavan, asserted that ISIS did forfeit most of the weaponry its members use, during ground clashes, and that is what the NGO documented in northern Iraq. Beavan added that the Iraqi army is the main source of the forfeited arms in the hands of ISIS militants. Those weapons are a mix of military equipments and devices that the Iraqi army received from the US.
Buisiness Insider website explained that upon the ISIS’s invasion of the Iraqi city of Mosul, its militants took hold of the sources bases of of armament; thus bereiving the Iraqi government of valuable equipment and arms inventories. Along with those weaponry, were weapons manufactured in Russia, China, Iran and the Balcans.
The weapons shipment confiscated on board a Russian freight plane in Baghdad International airport, was among a collection of deals which could build up to nine weapons shipments that ISIS reaceived through smuggling Iraqi oil to Iran, which is a deal that hasn‘t been cast in the media.
ISIS was able to prepare an eminent well trained power on the ground, from 2010 to 2012; which ultimately enabled it to launch surges of 20 attacks per day, on avarage, using car bombs until June 2014.

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ISIS’s arsenal in Syria

The armed militias in Syria were able to confescate weapons from Syrian army inventories, after some officers and army fighters defected and kept hold of their army equipment. These militias were able afterwards to take control over some military equipment inventories in the areas that was under the control of the Syrian state army. In addition; ISIS and other militias received weapons from Lybia after Qaddafi was ousted, and it’s a very immense arsenal that includes shoulder-held anti-warplane weapons that are swift and light, and also anti-shield weapons and nocturnal-clash weapons.
Also; ISIS was able to possess anti-warplane weapons from Tabaqa air base in Al-Raqqa in Syria. Among which were missiles capable of shooting down planes at 16,000 feet altitude. ISIS also confescated weapons from sites belonging to Syrian state army after its seige and taking control of it by ISIS. Thus; ISIS has many types of weapons that are of state army calibre, and possesses many heavy weaponry and developed army equipment.
ISIS earns 1.5 million dollars on a daily basis, from selling and smuggling oil, according to UN reports. A UN security council convening over terrorism in November 2014, unreveled that terrorist organizations depends heavily on donations and ransoms payed by the families of those abducted by the terrorist organizations, along with selling oil and stealing and smuggling Iraqi and Syrian artifacts and ruins.

ISIS dismantles security forces in Iraq
ISIS built upon the weakness of the Iraqi security and defence forces in the period 2010 through 2014, to expand throughout western and northwestern areas, until it became a threat to the capital Baghdad from within. This means the ISIS was moving in Iraq and also in Syria in the framework of previously designed stages, most apparent of which are “destroying the fenses“ and “managing savagery“. ISIS was aiming at weakening and dismantling the capabilities of Iraqi security forces perhaps more than that of defence, through targetting security forces headquarters and carrying out assasination operations and haphazard killings and attacking points of control; all aiming at planting terror in security and defence institutions. ISIS’s plan succeeded in dismantling Iraqi security forces and weakening defence forces, by June 2014, depending on the following:
• Carrying out direct military strikes that were more like “conquering“ spectacles.
• Building upon intelligence breaches within the ministries of interior, security and defence; via administring moles from within the institution, seduced by bribary, to uncover secret information or selling weapons deals or treason by not leading their teams on the ground but rather apprehending their troops to ISIS as hostages.

Thus; the security and defence forces in Iraq lost their poise and integrity among the people. And that was what ISIS ultimately wanted before claiming “caliphate“ in Mosul.

Warnings from Iraqi scenario in Lebanon and Sinai
Warnings against ISIS in Iraq say that it is trying to expand the swaths of chaos, and maybe retrying its Iraq experience in other countries like Lebanon and maybe Sinai. This is a dangerous threat, especially after ISIS leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghadadi received homily from some “jihadist“ groups in Lebanon, namely “Abu Sayyaf“ group, along with homily from “Ansaru Beitil Maqdis“ in Egypt, despite Egyptian intelligence uncovering that “Muslim bretherns“ organization was financing “Ansaru Beitil Maqdis“, which does not controvert the doctrine of “jihadism“ that this group holds.
The fact that there are experts from ISIS working with those jihadi groups bolsters the notion that the groups really do follow ISIS, in addition to ISIS being well able to finance and arm “Ansaru Beitil Maqdis“ and “Abu Sayyaf“ and other groups; so to expand the ISIS hegemony over more swaths in the region.

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ISIS’s battle field capabilities
ISIS has lost much of its strength militarily on the ground. It has lost Kobane at the ouset of 2015, and the city of Salahiddeen and parts of the city of Al-Anbar during March 2015, and is now holding on to his stronghold of Mosul (Iraq) and Raqqa(Syria). ISIS also lost some of its armament capability along with some of its leaders on the ground, after the US and allied forces modified some of their strategy and maybe military tactics and ground clash force against ISIS, especially in Iraq. The international alliance against ISIS was able, recently, to make substantial change in its military tactics to target ISIS, which was apparent in:
• The setting (place): after concentrating the strikes on Kobane without targetting Al-Anbar and Himreen basin, recently strikes hit targets in Al-Anbar, kirkuk, Salahiddeen and the outskirts of Mosul.
• The airstrikes were meant to directly target ISIS leaders on the ground. Thus; the alliance killed the prominent leader dubbed “Muhannad As-Suwaydawi“ on January 2, 2015 in Al-Anbar, after he was responsible for ISIS attacks in Falluja.
• Alliance forces began to posses crucial intelligence on the ground, thus breaching ISIS from within. This was apparent when alliance forces carried out preemptive strikes that targetted meetings held by leaders of ISIS right after these meetings commenced. And this sure portrays the wellness of intelligence and the sound coordination with the operation headquarters managing the airstrikes.
• The alliance forces were able to coordiante information with western areas tribes, preceding the official Iraqi intelligence input from the ground, and that of alliance personnel such as consultants in Iraq.

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Targetting ISIS leaders
Operations targetting ISIS leaders reminds us of targetting Al-Qaeda leaders in Wazeerstan (Pakistan), Afghanistan, Yemen and Iraq after 2006; which ended up in killing first class Al-Qaeda leaders, most prominent of which is Abu Musaab Al-Zarqawi, Abu Ayyoub Al-Masri, Abu Omar Al-Baghdadi, Al-Awlaqi in Yemen, and Abu Yahya Al-Leebiy and Abu Zubaida in Afghanistan. Reports then uncovered that Al-Qaeda leaders reached a point of weakness where they began to resort to bycicles for transport instead of 4×4 vehicles.

The Question Today: What Effect the Loss of Ground Leaders Has on ISIS?
ISIS is considered a smart organization. It can do all calculations to compensate its losses of first class leaders. Yet, this won’t last long. Maybe at this stage, the organization could treat this situation to some extent, but in the future, and in a short period of time, it will sustain ground setback, since all current leaders on the ground are indigenous to there sarroundings, and thus are well familiar with the geagraphy and tribes; and this in particular is what foreign fighters lack and cannot compensate. ISIS today is depending on those foreign fighters to try to avoid any foreseen ground loss and defections from within.
Also; ISIS is bound to lose much of its valuable weaponry’s effectiveness, since it lost those who wield its use on the ground and manage operations. The BBC reported on ISIS using Chlorine gas in offensives in the Iraqi city of Tikrit, in March 2015, by implanting roadside bombs in main roads.
In addition; ISIS have suffered the fleeing of its foreign fighters, especially those from Europe; which led it to deploy its intelligence individuals on the Syrian border. And those who were captured while fleeing were accused of spying and treason, to warn other members against fleeing.
Despite that; ISIS could still be described as not rambling, in its most closed circle that consisted of 15 thousand fighters, and is still narrowing to less than what its populace was before the invasion of Mosul in June 2014. This, though, does not apply to its network, that has reached 12 thousand fighters, after the horizontal expansion of ISIS.
So; ISIS is witnessing a setback on the ground, and is predicted to fight fiercely in Mosul where a peospective battle is on the horizon. The organiztion, nevertheless, believes its final battle will be in Raqqa.

*Iraqi researcher expert in terrorism and intelligence, based in Berlin.

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