The Islamic State’s Cash Flow Problems

What will fill the void if the Islamic State is forced to vacate the territory it holds? Pictured: Government building in Ramadi. (Photo: Beshr / Flickr Commons)

Not only has the Islamic State been driven out of Ramadi, but most of its citizens. Pictured: Government building in Ramadi. (Photo: Beshr / Flickr Commons)

In the process of killing 25,000 Islamic State fighters (!) — yes, we should feel sorrow for them (not to mention civilians killed) — reports the New York Times, American airstrikes have “hit at least 10 depots where the Islamic State stored hard currency” and “incinerated millions of dollars plundered by the militants.” A result:

In Mosul, Iraq, and in Raqqa, the Syrian city that is the Islamic State’s de facto capital, salaries for fighters have been cut in half since last year, according to residents and documents.

While holding its fighting force together seems to require more funds than the Islamic State is bringing in, taking the battle to Europe costs very little.

… the cost of the materials used in the Brussels attack and the lab needed to make the explosives, for instance, was $10,000 to $15,000.

Also

Since late October, an American air campaign called Operation Tidal Wave II has targeted oil fields, refineries and tanker trucks, and American officials believe they have cut the Islamic State’s oil revenue by about a third. … Since late October, an American air campaign called Operation Tidal Wave II has targeted oil fields, refineries and tanker trucks, and American officials believe they have cut the Islamic State’s oil revenue by about a third.

But the authors quote Jonathan Schanzer, a former terrorism finance analyst at the Treasury Department, who cautions:

“Defeating the formal military presence of a terrorist group will not significantly mitigate the threat of lone wolf or small independent cells that are based in the West…”

Meanwhile, in the National Interest, in a piece titled ISIS is Losing: Now Comes the Hard Part, Paul Pillar worries that, as with the invasion of the Iraq, the United States will drop the ball on whatever rushes in to fill the void if the Islamic State (as a land-holding entity, that is) is defeated.

The recent action in and around Palmyra makes it hard to escape the conclusion that the Assad regime will be filling some of the space previously occupied by ISIS. That makes all the more untenable any political formula for Syria that centers around the departure of that regime. … The competing aspirations of Kurds and Sunni Arabs are the biggest, but not the only, part of the unresolved conflicts involved.

Not that Pillar is calling for increased U.S. military presence in the region.

… [a] reason the calls for U.S. military escalation are unwarranted is that even if such escalation were to hasten the demise of ISIS, such hastening would only bring to the fore more quickly some more fundamental problems.