Despite U.S. efforts to disrupt the Islamic State’s oil revenue, the terrorist group has turned to extortion and looting to replenish revenue lost to U.S. airstrikes.
The European Center for the Analysis of Terrorism’s recent report estimates ISIS generated approximately $2 billion in 2015. The report elaborates that in response to loss in revenue to airstrikes from the U.S. led coalition ISIS has set up an independent Bureau in Iraq and Syria to in charge of looting ancient archeological sites it controls and selling them on the black market.
Additionally while the U.S. has gloated over its ability to disrupt ISIS’s oil revenues the report found that “while the exploitation of these natural reserves constitutes one of its primary sources of financing, the majority of its funds currently comes from widespread extortion.” The findings indicate ISIS is making up for oil revenues by simply looting the local population.
The U.S. has often emphasized a major effort of their airstrikes against ISIS in Iraq and Syria is to disrupt and ultimately destroy their ability to operate. These airstrikes are meant to weaken the terrorist group internally, while U.S. backed forces in Syria and Iraqi Security Forces advance on their territory on the ground. Daniel Glaser, a senior Treasury department official responsible for overseeing terrorist financing, told CNN Thursday airstrikes may have destroyed up to $100 million in ISIS cash reserves.
The report concluded, however, that “the action of the international coalition failed to significantly reduce its sources of financing in 2015.” ISIS’s ability to consistently generate revenue stems from its ability to control territory, which allows it a significant degree of “financial self-sufficiency” and gives it access to “diversified resources.”
“ISIS is not bankrupt; it’s a bit constrained,” Howard Shatz of the Rand Corporation told Vocativ. “They’re very good at controlling their expenses and finding ways to raise money.”
Ultimately the report and many experts note that the only way to eliminate ISIS’s ability to generate revenue is to seize territory back from the terrorist group. Currently ISIS is being pressed on several fronts in Iraq and Syria, but seizure of all ISIS held territory in the next year is unlikely.
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