Mil­i­tants flee­ing Syria leav­ing trove of in­tel­li­gence

Records de­tail fi­nances, per­son­nel of Is­lamic State

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel - - Milwaukee Wisconsin - Jim Michaels USA TO­DAY

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.”

DELIL SOULEIMAN/AFP/ GETTY IMAGES

Peo­ple carry bread back to their homes last week in Raqqa, the for­mer “cap­i­tal” of the Is­lamic State mil­i­tant group in Syria.

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