Can a few well-timed and well-placed attacks on senior leadership of a terror network start a death spiral within it? We may soon find out with ISIS. After the US and other members of the anti-ISIS coalition proved the quality of their intelligence by picking off important commanders within its structure, the terrorist collective began executing its own people by the dozens in an attempt to find the spies. The Associated Press also reports that the attacks have also restricted travel by top leaders who are less keen to expedite their own martyrdom:
In March, a senior commander with the Islamic State group was driving through northern Syria on orders to lead militants in the fighting there when a drone blasted his vehicle to oblivion.
The killing of Abu Hayjaa al-Tunsi, a Tunisian jihadi, sparked a panicked hunt within the group’s ranks for spies who could have tipped off the U.S-led coalition about his closely guarded movements. By the time it was over, the group would kill 38 of its own members on suspicion of acting as informants.
They were among dozens of ISIS members killed by their own leadership in recent months in a vicious purge after a string of airstrikes killed prominent figures. Others have disappeared into prisons and still more have fled, fearing they could be next as the jihadi group turns on itself in the hunt for moles, according to Syrian opposition activists, Kurdish militia commanders, several Iraqi intelligence officials and an informant for the Iraqi government who worked within ISIS’ ranks. …
ISIS “commanders don’t dare come from Iraq to Syria because they are being liquidated” by airstrikes, said Bebars al-Talawy, an opposition activist in Syria who monitors the jihadi group.
The methods of execution have become more brutal as well. In some cases, suspected spies get dropped into vats of acid. Combine that with more sophisticated methods of disinformation to out moles, and it makes for a very uncomfortable work environment. At the bottom of it all is a lack of money, as the anti-ISIS coalition goes after the group’s income streams. That has some ISIS fighters looking for ways out, or at least ways to get the resources to live as the group initially promised.
Is that “how this group crumbles”? Retired Gen. Jack Keane posits that hard times have spawned a vicious cycle of paranoia and disillusionment. If success breeds success, failure breeds something very brutal in the world of radical Islamic jihadists:
Joseph Stalin’s paranoia worked against him similarly in the Great Purge of 1936-38. As Adolf Hitler built a massive military intended to penetrate and enslave the Soviet Union, Stalin tried to purify the Communist Party by expelling heterodox thinkers, but the effort became a paranoid meltdown that weakened the Soviets, especially in its military leadership. That didn’t lead to the collapse of the Soviet Union, but it certainly weakened it for events that would unfold a short three years later.
ISIS doesn’t have the same kind of resources or power that Stalin had even after the Great Purge. It now has little to offer new recruits, and it has perhaps never had a greater need for them. General Keane wisely reminds viewers that it isn’t powerless yet either, and has enough resiliency to bounce back if the pressure is lifted off from them. In order to accelerate this death spiral, the anti-ISIS coalition has to put real pressure on Mosul and especially Raqqa for its value to ISIS morale. If leadership in Raqqa begins to blow up unexpectedly, the meltdown could wind up being total.