How to beat ISIS: Blow up the money

At least four times in the past four months, U.S. military jets have targeted [major] ISIS financial centers, destroying them in strikes that have turned millions of U.S. dollars into confetti. The U.S. has also killed ISIS financial leaders — its “oil minister” in 2015 and its “finance minister” in March.

The strikes are the fruit of a secret cyber war in which the U.S. is tracking, manipulating and even stealing or destroying the financial assets of terrorists. Five years after the SEAL raid that killed Osama bin Laden on May 1, 2011, it’s a subtle shift from the U.S. strategy against al Qaeda in which degrading the operational leadership was the priority.

Just as unraveling the courier network was critical to tracking bin Laden, the cyber efforts against the ISIS financial network are critical to upending ISIS, say U.S. officials. Unlike al Qaeda, ISIS is trying to run a government and control a big chunk of land, and it has a constant need for hard currency to pay its fighters and bureaucrats and feed its population. The war is not just about tracing the movement of money but the movement of individuals linked to the cash.