Security

Losses in senior hierarchy compound ISIL’s steady decline

By Waleed Abu al-Khair in Cairo

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'Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant' spokesman Abu Mohamed al-Adnani was killed in an August 30th airstrike in northern Syria. [Photo courtesy of the Iraqi Ministry of Defence]

In addition to losing several strategic cities and oil smuggling routes in recent months, which has led to a decline in the financial and military capabilities of the "Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant" (ISIL), the group has been steadily losing senior leaders who yielded great influence among its followers, experts tell Diyaruna.

These losses, they say, signal the beginning of the end for ISIL.

The most recent blow to ISIL was the killing of its spokesman Abu Mohamed al-Adnani, whose real name was Taha Sobhi Falaha, in an August 30th airstrike in northern Syria , the Pentagon confirmed September 12th.

"The strike near al-Bab, Syria, removes from the battlefield ISIL's chief propagandist, recruiter and architect of external terrorist operations," said Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook.

"It is one in a series of successful strikes against ISIL leaders, including those responsible for finances and military planning, that make it harder for the group to operate," he added.

'Beginning of the end'

ISIL's successive losses in leadership, territory and logistical capabilities bode ill for the group's future, said Sami Gheit, a researcher with Al-Sharq Centre for Regional and Strategic Studies.

Ground advances by the Iraqi army, Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and Kurdish fighters, backed by aerial support from the coalition, have killed many of the group's fighters in Iraq and Syria and depleted its ranks, he told Diyaruna.

Additionally, he said, losses resulting from targeting ISIL's leaders "have had a serious impact on the command's hierarchy, as the group has lost most of its veteran 'emirs' who wielded great influence among its foreign fighters".

The promotion of the second generation of leadership will weaken the group’s control over its fighters, Gheit said.

ISIL also has sustained heavy losses in terms of its logistical capabilities, he added, which have thwarted its cross-border smuggling operations and its drilling and sale of oil and other looted artefacts from Iraq and Syria.

"The group has lost the network of roads it controlled, which had enabled it to extract oil and excavate antiquities and sell them on the black market outside Iraq and Syria," he said.

"We can safely say the beginning of the end is very near for ISIL," Gheit said.

Striking ISIL’s leaders

"ISIL has lost many of its offensive, defensive and financial capabilities in both Syria and Iraq, particularly since the beginning of 2015," said Syrian journalist Mohammed al-Abdullah, who resides in Cairo.

This is a result of the losses it sustained in Syria at the hands of the SDF, backed by the coalition, who liberated the cities of Kobani, Tel Abyad and Manbij, he told Diyaruna.

In Iraq, ISIL sustained losses at the hands of the Iraqi army and Peshmerga forces, who retook the cities of Tikrit, Sinjar, Ramadi and Fallujah, he said.

Outside Syria and Iraq, he added, the group also has lost many of its leaders in Libya and other countries in which it has a presence.

These include Fadel Ahmed al-Hiyali, also known as 'Haji Moataz', 'Abu Moataz al-Qurashi' and 'Abu Muslim al-Turkmani', who is believed to have been a member of ISIL’s military council. The Iraqi Ministry of Defence announced his death in August 2015.

In May 2015, the ministry announced the death of Abdul Rahman Mustafa al-Qaduli, known as 'Abu Alaa al-Afri', the deputy of ISIL leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

"The group also lost the leader of its Libyan branch, Wissam Najm Abed Zayd al-Zubaydi, also known as 'Abu Nabil'," al-Abdullah said.

In July, the group confirmed the death of top commander Abu Omar al-Shishani, whose real name is Tarkhan Batirashvili, in the Iraqi town of al-Sharqat.

On July 26th, a US airstrike killed ISIL's leader in Afghanistan and Pakistan (Khorasan province), Hafiz Saeed Khan.

Loss of funding sources

"The group currently is under a real blockade after losing many sites and cities that were vital conduits for the smuggling of oil, antiquities and other materials that it traded on the black market," said Cairo University professor of international economics Nasser al-Assiouty.

ISIL's ability to exploit Syria's oil has dwindled dramatically, he told Diyaruna, adding that the group controls primitive wells and refineries that barely cover its day-to-day needs.

"It is clear that export activities have come to a complete halt in Syria as a result of ISIL's loss of the cities of Manbij and Jarablus, which were critical corridors for smuggled oil and hubs for connection to other regions, particularly al-Raqa and its rural areas," he said.

The co-ordination of sales operations "also was dealt a major blow with the killing of Sami Mohammed al-Jubury on August 11th, who was known to be the oil sales operations co-ordinator for ISIL", al-Assiouty said.

This time last year, ISIL's revenue from oil sales was more than $1 million a day, he said.

"All that the group is left with now are a few wells in rural al-Raqa," such as the Wadi Ubayd oil field, in addition to oil wells in Deir Ezzor, the largest and most important of which are the Kuniko wells, he said.

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