Militants fleeing Syria leaving trove of intelligence
Records detail finances, personnel of Islamic State
Islamic State militants fleeing strongholds in Syria are leaving behind a trove of records detailing everything from the terror group’s finances to personnel documents on individual fighters.
“Their record-keeping is phenomenal,” Maj. Gen. James Jarrard told USA TODAY in an interview from Baghdad.
The Islamic State group kept meticulous records, including directives and orders marked with official stamps.
Over the past three years, the coalition and local forces have seized “hundreds of terabytes” of data from IS computers and storage devices in northern Syria, where U.S.-backed forces are operating, according to the coalition headquarters.
Each terabyte can hold more than 80 million pages of Microsoft Word documents.
“We did learn a lot about their organizational structure, how they communicated, how they facilitated personnel and finances,” Jarrard said.
“It is a very detail-oriented bookkeeping organization (with a) tremendous amount of details on every individual,” Jarrard said. The records include a “laundry list of individuals that have moved into Syria and Iraq,” he said.
The information has allowed the coalition to target the group’s top leaders. “The most valuable stuff that we look for immediately is the connections, the understanding of the organization’s construct so we can focus our targeting efforts,” Jarrard said.
The Pentagon said it has killed many of the group’s most senior officials, though the top leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, remains at large.
Analysts also use the intelligence to paint a broader picture of how the group functioned.
At its peak, the Islamic State earned about $50 million a month from oil revenues and had an additional $500 million it had looted from banks in areas it controlled. In 2014 it swept into Iraq from Syria, capturing large swaths of territory, including Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city.
At the time it appeared invincible, drawing fighters from around the world to its self-proclaimed caliphate in Syria and Iraq.
Today, the Islamic State has lost 98 percent of the territory it controlled, according to the coalition. Pockets of militants have fled to remote areas, including villages along the Euphrates River Valley, stretching between Iraq and Syria. Revenues have been depleted.
“They are struggling for cash in some areas,” Jarrard said. “They’re telling folks no when they request money and resources.”
People carry bread back to their homes last week in Raqqa, the former “capital” of the Islamic State militant group in Syria.