Following reports that up to 500 UK citizens are fighting abroad in Syria and Iraq, the Centre for the Response to Radicalisation and Terrorism (CRT) at The Henry Jackson Society released the the briefing Understanding The Islamic State. The briefing addresses the rise of the Islamic State (IS) and its modus operandi including leadership structure, how it is funded and its military capability. The briefing also details the threats that IS poses to Middle East regional stability as well as Western and UK national security – providing policy options for strategies open to the US and the UK in countering the threat from IS.
Key findings of the briefing include:
- IS fighters have been labelled as ‘professional, well trained, motivated and equipped’ by military officials. Yet it is also extraordinarily well armed, and has been described by former CIA Director General David Petraeus as a ‘terrorist army’.
- The IS has a variety of means of replenishing its coffers. The small oilfields it has captured in northern Iraq could provide up to $730 million per year on the black market, and the IS produces between 30 – 70,000 barrels of oil per day.
- Not only is IS a threat to neighbours in Lebanon and Jordan, there is a growing consensus among world leaders and key figures, including David Cameron, Chuck Hagel and David Petraeus, that they pose a real danger to the West.
- The US must take the fight to IS with airstrikes against its strongholds across Iraq and Syria, supported by US and UK-led special forces’ presence, which will conduct counterterrorism operations, gather intelligence, develop contacts with potential local partners and advise Iraqi forces.
- A failure to act now will lead to an expansion in both the size of the IS and the dangers it poses. The consequences of this for Christians, Yazidis, Jews, Shia and all others who the IS perceives to be its enemies will be grave: both in the Middle East and the West.