American airstrikes against ISIS targets in Iraq began on August 8. Not long after the commencement of the air war against the Islamic State in Iraq, coalition forces expanded the theater of operations into Syria. Months after the start of that campaign, however, the administration can tout only limited successes. The press struggles equally in the effort to avoid calling the war against ISIS, at best, a stalemate.
“The Islamic State’s staggering wealth amassed through a ‘diversified portfolio’ of revenue streams will make it extraordinarily hard for the US and other countries to stop or cripple the group, experts said today in response to a new United Nations report,” Vice News revealed on Thursday.
The report says that at this point, the Sunni Islamist group could be making anywhere from $850,000 to $1.6 million per day from oil seized illegally from fields outside of Mosul this summer, which is then exported through third party tankers and pipelines. The report estimates that the group sells around 47,000 barrels per day at $18 to $35 per barrel on the black market.
But the Islamic State also enjoys other revenue streams, including “several million dollars” per month from extorting local businesses in its territories, profits from looting antiquities, including those from archeological sites, and $35 to $45 million in the last year from kidnapping ransom payments, according to the report.
“What the report hammers home is that these guys — the Islamic State certainly and al Nusra to a smaller extent — are better resourced than adversaries we’ve faced in the past,” Ilan Berman, vice president of the American Foreign Policy Council, told VICE News. “They have a little more meat on the bones.”
That same United Nations report indicated that the Islamic State has amassed enough weaponry to fight on for at least another two years. Moreover, the group’s declared intention to pursue unconventional weapons of mass destruction remains a threat to the West. While ISIS does not possess the advanced technological capabilities required to produce nuclear weaponry, they are in control of facilities where chemical weapons are both produced and stored. There is reason to believe, furthermore, that ISIS maintains the talent to produce biological weapons at advanced facilities in the University of Mosul.
“After more than three months of air attacks against ISIS forces in Iraq and Syria, U.S. intelligence and defense officials say minimal progress has been made toward President Barack Obama’s stated goal to ‘degrade and destroy’ the Islamic terror group,” NBC News conceded.
According to NBC News, a classified report presented to lawmakers on Wednesday suggested that the transit of foreign fighters into the Islamic State is only increasing. “The official cautioned that the figures U.S. intelligence has compiled are estimates and that analysts have ‘limited insight’ into the number of foreign fighters arriving from the West,” the NBC report revealed.
U.S. military officials say Iraqi security forces (ISF) have had some tactical successes and established a wider defensive perimeter around Baghdad, for example. But they warn that the Iraqis are still a long way from launching any major ground offensive against ISIS forces in and around Mosul or in the Anbar province.
The U.S. is currently spending approximately $8 million per day on airstrikes and support operations and the total cost since airstrikes began Aug. 8 is $832 million. Some 50 U.S. special operations forces are on the ground, embedded with Iraqi Army’s 7th Division at the al-Assad airbase in the Anbar province. About half of them are military combat advisers, the other half are assisting primarily in logistics and communications.
The prosecution of this war on limited terms is likely helping the public to get over their aversion to the use of military force in places like Iraq and Syria. An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll released on Wednesday showed that a full 49 percent of the public approves of using American troops to fight ISIS in both theaters while just 36 percent oppose such a move. That is a remarkable legacy accomplishment for an Obama administration which fancied itself as a White House that would devote its focus to ending wars and not starting them.