The Islamic State terror group was largely crushed by coordinated worldwide effort in 2019, however its networks seem to nonetheless have entry to an estimated $100 million in money reserves stashed throughout the Middle East, the US Treasury Department mentioned.
IS’ financial reserves are at a historic low because it took over swaths of Iraq and Syria in 2014, having since misplaced all of its tax- and oil-producing territory.
But the group’s remnants in Syria proceed to obtain streams of money from associates based mostly in neighboring Turkey and from smugglers in Iraq, in response to an unclassified Treasury Department memo launched earlier this month.
Some of these transfers have gone by way of native hawalas (cash companies companies) within the infamous al-Hol internment camp, which homes some 50,000 relations of IS fighters. Other money shipments have been delivered by courier throughout the flat, open desert border between Iraq and Syria.
Inside Syria, the group continues to boost funds “through extortion of oil smuggling networks in eastern Syria, kidnaping for ransom targeting civilian businesses and populations, looting and possibly the operation of front companies,” the memo from the Treasury’s chief auditor learn.
The doc supplies a restricted window right into a forgotten entrance within the US-led battle in opposition to the jihadi proto-state, a battle that has largely dropped from the headlines. But networks of IS militants are nonetheless on the market, and as final week’s twin suicide bombings in Baghdad underscore, they continue to be lethal.
As the brand new administration of President Joe Biden appears to recalibrate Washington’s approach to the Middle East after 4 years of Donald Trump, officers might need to look into methods to chop off the fear group’s enablers, mentioned David Asher, a senior fellow on the Hudson Institute who led the State Department’s financial warfare technique in opposition to IS in 2014-15.
“Turkey’s tolerance for Islamic State financing was unusually high,” Asher advised Al-Monitor, including, “I don’t believe that there has been sufficient effort ever mounted inside Turkey to cut the Islamic State’s finance and banking logistics networks off.”
In the early days of the self-proclaimed caliphate, IS members interrogated by US investigators claimed they used the Turkish side of the Syrian border “as their ATM,” Asher recalled. Al-Monitor has reached out to Turkey’s Interior Ministry for comment.
“There have been periodic joint efforts, but it surely hasn’t been constant. It can be nice if the Biden administration might get extra cooperation on that,” he mentioned.
Perhaps the US official most crucial of the Turkish authorities’s stance (or lack thereof) towards IS, Brett McGurk, returned this month to the White House because the National Security Council’s coordinator for the Middle East and North Africa.
McGurk, who served as US envoy to the coalition to defeat IS below each former Presidents Barack Obama and Trump, resigned in protest when Trump out of the blue ordered all US forces to withdraw from Syria in December 2018.
That choice was later reversed, however Trump ordered the United States out of Syria once more 10 months later, main US particular forces handy over key territory to the Assad regime and Russia. The pullback diminished the US authorities’s visibility on IS’ monetary actions, the Treasury Department reported final yr.
The self-proclaimed caliphate nonetheless has an estimated 10,000 loyalist fighters in Iraq and Syria, in response to a United Nations report launched in August.
The United States has additionally assisted Iraq in increase its sparse safety alongside its 400-mile border with Syria, throughout which fighters, weapons, medicine, cigarettes and money have flown for many years.
Meanwhile the hunt for IS’ remaining figures is prone to proceed below the Biden administration. Earlier this week, US and Iraqi forces tracked down and killed the jihadi group’s high commander in Iraq, Abu Yaser al-Issawi, after rounding up or killing 17 of his associates in latest months.
Nine different suspected IS figures had been additionally killed within the operation, mentioned a spokesperson for Iraq’s commander in chief, Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi.