WASHINGTON — ISIS lacks sufficient military grade weaponry, but that doesn’t mean it has conceded defeat, according to new findings shared by experts Tuesday at the Stimson Center.
“We can say that the deployment and manufacture of IEDs [Improvised Explosive Devices]… is being done on an industrial scale and in an unprecedented fashion” in Iraq and Syria, said Jonah Leff, Director of Operations at Conflict Armament Research.
“We’ve never ever seen anything like this.”
Conflict Armament Research (CAR) is a UK-based organization that has been in operation for a little more than a year, and is primarily funded by the European Union in order to track and map illicit weapons used in conflict zones.
They found that ISIS is clearly lacking when it comes to sufficient military-grade equipment, and that’s why they are becoming increasingly dependent on homemade and improvised explosives.
Leff explained that the many IEDs that have been found are very similar in type, and this uniformity points to a centralized manufacturing process.
“They’re all victim operated, using fertilizer-based explosives, and many of them are similar in construction,” he said.
Leff said that the massive scale of production has resulted in the most casualties among Kurdish forces fighting ISIS, and it is quickly becoming the single biggest problem facing the Peshmerga.
“They’re literally out there with pliers, digging these things up and cutting wires, and really are some of the bravest men I’ve ever seen going after these, while we stayed very far back at our vehicles waiting for them to dismantle them and bring the devices to us so that we could do an assessment,” he explained.
Shawn Harris, lead field investigator in Iraq and Syria, also recognized these challenges and urged the international community to put more attention on dealing with IEDs, instead of “just blowing up tanks.”
The group hopes their findings will inform policy makers with field-based evidence that can help in making decisions, and said they are working closely with the Kurdish Security Council, providing briefings for things like dismantling IEDs, and ways to remove fertilizers from the market that are used to create them.
They also hope to give the United States a better understanding of what’s going on in the region, and concluded that US-led coalition airstrikes are proving to be very effective against ISIS.
Their research suggests that if the airstrikes were somehow able to locate and target the centralized IED-producing sites, it could severely weaken ISIS’ main source of weapon capabilities.
Despite images of ISIS members wielding US-made weapons in online videos, they said US weapons do not actually play a significant role for them on the battlefield.
“It’s understandable why we’re concerned about US-made weapons, we’re seeing them on the news… ISIS having M16s on YouTube doing ninja-type of maneuvers,” said Harris.
“The thing is that they’re not using them,” he said. “They’re really just a prize” among higher-up Islamic State commanders.