Inside the Economic War against ISIS
Joby Warrick
January 4, 2017, 9:33 am

Washington- ISIS starts the new year with a drastically depleted bank account, counterterrorism officials say, following months of intensified efforts to deprive the jihadists of oil profits and other revenue used to finance military operations and terrorist attacks abroad.

Coalition aircraft in the past 15 months have destroyed more than 1,200 tanker trucks — including 168 vehicles struck in a single air raid in Syria in early December — while also using new weapons and tactics to inflict lasting damage on the terrorists’ remaining oil fields, U.S. and Middle Eastern officials say.

The military strikes are being paired with new measures intended to shut down financial networks used by ISIS to procure supplies and pay its fighters, the officials say. Two weeks ago, the U.S. and Iraqi governments announced the first coordinated effort to punish Iraqi and Syrian financial services companies used by the terrorists to conduct business.

The campaign has slashed profits from oil sales, traditionally the biggest revenue source for ISIS, U.S. officials say, and deepened the economic pain for a terrorist organization that until recently was regarded as the world’s wealthiest. One sign of the financial strain, the officials say, is a shrinking payroll: After cutting salaries by 50 percent a few months ago, ISIS now appears to be struggling to pay its workers and fighters at all.

“We are destroying ISIS’s economic base,” Brett McGurk, the Obama administration’s special envoy to the 67-nation coalition arrayed against ISIS, said at a news briefing recently. Just a year ago, the militants were luring foreign fighters with promises of generous paychecks, but today “that is not happening,” he said.

“Their fighters are not getting paid,” McGurk said, “and we have multiple indications of that.”

Coalition planes have been bombing the group’s oil fields and tanker fleet for more than two years, but the most notable successes in recent months have come from military operations that targeted individual oil wells, including well casings and other underground infrastructure, according to U.S. and Middle Eastern officials familiar with the new strategy.

The tactics make it all but impossible for ISIS to repair the wells or extract oil through makeshift techniques, the officials said.

Previous airstrikes crippled ISIS’ oil-producing capacity, but the militants consistently found ways to pump and refine oil in smaller batches using primitive methods, said a senior U.S. counterterrorism official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss military operations. Now, even the small-scale operations are struggling, he said.

“We can take them back to the 19th century, but people were still able to extract oil in the 19th century — it bubbles up to the ground and they find a way to bottle it and sell it to someone,” the official said. The new approach involves inflicting “the maximum amount of damage with the right weapons so it will not be easy or quick for them to repair,” the official said.

Inside the Economic War against ISIS