ISIS's 5 Most Lethal Weapons of War
From a pure military standpoint, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant has taken a significant pounding from the air over the past nine months. Indeed, ever since President Barack Obama authorized U.S. military airstrikes on ISIL targets in Iraq and Syria on August 8, 2014 — a decision that was originally justified by the White House on the grounds of saving the ethnic Yazidi community from being wiped out in an act of genocide — the terrorist group has lost considerable military hardware and manpower. As of May 8, according to Central Command headquarters, U.S. and coalition aircraft have destroyed 6,278 ISIL-related targets— a full nine months since the air campaign was initiated.
These targets include, but are certainly not limited to: heavy weaponry captured by retreating Iraqi and Syrian government soldiers on the battlefield; ISIL fighting positions, checkpoints, and convoys; transportation; communications infrastructure; leadership; and oil refineries used by the organization to sell stolen Iraqi oil on the black market. Over 77 tanks alone have been taken off the battlefield by coalition aircraft, an achievement that has no doubt diminished ISIL’s ability to expand into new territory against opponents who may find themselves outgunned and undermanned.
When taken together, the Obama administration has argued that ISIL has lost between 25 and 30 percent of its territory since August 2014, when the group was at its peak. The White House has used these figures as proof that their counter-ISIL strategy is working, even as the president himself has remarked time and again that it will take a very long time to degrade and “ultimately defeat” the extremist organization.
The administration is right to use the “it will take a long time” qualifier, because while ISIL continues to suffer incredible destruction in its ranks (at least 8,500 ISIL militants have reportedly been killed, according to government estimates), the terrorist-army is still one of the most powerful players in both Iraq and Syria. The group has retained its stronghold in Raqqa and the Iraqi city of Mosul despite persistent U.S. operations from the air. And, like Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the Pakistani Taliban and Boko Haram, it has mastered the ability to cause international headlines with a single, coordinated, mass-casualty attack.
While it would be easy to cite determination, nihilism, ideology, and bloodthirsty ambition as the sole factors responsible for ISIL’s survival, the fact is that if it weren’t for these weapons, the organization would likely have been diminished to the pathetic stature of Al-Qaeda in Iraq circa 2010.
The Suicide Bomber
If it takes a village to raise a child, it only takes a single suicide bomber to destroy the very fabric of a local community. Throughout its twenty-five month existence, ISIL has had no shortage of young Muslim men willing to strap on an explosive vest or ride in an explosive-laced vehicle and drive it towards a target. Whether it’s a Shia mosque filled with worshipers or an Iraqi military base in the far corners of Anbar province, ISIL’s legion of suicide bombers has served as a useful tool to inflict terror in the hearts of those supporting the government or other rebel factions. The March 20 suicide bombing in a Sanaa mosque purportedly claimed by a ISIL Yemeni affiliate is a case in point: a series of blasts coordinated by five suicide bombers killed roughly 137 worshipers, some of whom were deliberately targeted after fleeing the first blast inside the mosque. The operation in the heart of the Yemeni capital, and in an area that was supposedly Houthi-controlled, shocked many Yemenis around the country and turned out to be the largest suicide bombing attack in the nation’s recent history.
The suicide bomber, however, is not only used to kill civilians or send a message. ISIL also integrates suicide bombers into its military operations; it is part of the terrorist group’s battlefield strategy. The typical ISIL-operation, particularly on a hard target with perimeter walls and decent security like a Syrian military outpost, consists of one or more suicide bombers being deployed to breach the walls before a larger group of ISIL fighters enter into the facility. It’s a dependable playbook for an organization like ISIL, where military units in remote areas of Iraq and Syria are often pleading for ammunition and greater support from their governments.