Stopping ISIS: Follow the Money
By Peter Van Buren
November 18, 2015 "Information
Clearing House" - Wars
are expensive. The recruitment and sustainment of
fighters in the field, the ongoing purchases of weapons
and munitions, as well as the myriad other costs of
struggle, add up.
So why isn’t the United States going
after Islamic State’s funding sources as a way of
lessening or eliminating their strength at making war?
Follow the money back, cut it off, and you strike a blow
much more devastating than an airstrike. But that has
not happened. Why?
Many have long held that Sunni terror
groups, ISIS now and al Qaeda before them, are funded
via Gulf States, such as Saudi Arabia, who are also
long-time American allies. Direct links are difficult to
prove, particularly if the United States chooses not to
prove them. The issue is exacerbated by suggestions that
the money comes from “donors,” not directly from
national treasuries, and may be routed through
legitimate charitable organizations or front companies.
In fact, one person
concerned about Saudi funding was then Secretary of
State Hillary Clinton, who warned in a 2009 message on
Wikileaks that donors in Saudi Arabia were the “most
significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups
At the G20, Russian President Vladimir
Putin said out loud what has otherwise not been publicly
discussed much in public. He announced that he has
shared intelligence with the other G20 member states
40 countries from which ISIS finances the majority
of its terrorist activities. The list reportedly
included a number of G20 countries.
Putin’s list of funders has not been
made public. The G20, however, include Argentina,
Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany,
India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Russia, Saudi
Arabia, South Africa, South Korea, Turkey, the United
Kingdom, the United States of America, and the European
One source of income for ISIS is and
has robustly been oil sales. In the early days of the
air campaign, American officials made a point to say
that the Islamic State’s oil drilling assets were high
on the target list. Yet few sites have actually been
targeted. A Pentagon spokesperson
explained that the coalition has actually been
trying to spare some of ISIS’s largest oil producing
facilities, “recognizing that they remain the property
of the Syrian people,” and to limit collateral damage to
The U.S. only this week began a
slightly more aggressive approach toward the oil, albeit
bombing tanker trucks, not the infrastructure behind
them. The trucks were destroyed at the Abu Kamal oil
collection point, near the Iraqi border.
Conservative estimates are that
Islamic State takes in one to two million dollars a day
from oil sales; some see the number as high as four
million a day. As recently as February, however, the
claimed oil was no longer ISIS’ main way to raise
money, having been bypassed by those “donations” from
unspecified sources, and smuggling.
One of the issues with selling oil, by
anyone, including ISIS, is bringing the stuff to market.
Oil must be taken from the ground using heavy equipment,
possibly refined, stored, loaded into trucks or
pipelines, moved somewhere and then sold into the
worldwide market. Large amounts of money must be
exchanged, and one to four million dollars a day is a
lot of cash to deal with on a daily basis. It may be
that some sort of electronic transactions that have
somehow to date eluded the United States are involved.
Interestingly, The Guardian
reported a U.S.-led raid on the compound housing the
Islamic State’s chief financial officer produced
evidence that Turkish officials directly dealt with
ranking ISIS members, including the ISIS officer
responsible for directing the terror army’s oil and gas
operations in Syria.
door policy,” in which it
allowed its southern border to serve as an
unofficial transit point in and out of Syria, has been
said to be one of ISIS’ main routes for getting their
oil to market. A Turkish apologist
claimed the oil is moved only via small-diameter
plastic irrigation pipes, and is thus hard to monitor.
A smuggled barrel of oil is sold for
about $50 on the black market. This means
“>several million dollars a day worth of oil would
require a very large number of very small pipes.
Turkish and Iraqi oil buyers travel into Syria with
their own trucks, and purchase the ISIS oil right at the
refineries, transporting themselves out of Syria.
Convoys of trucks are easy to spot from the air, and
easy to destroy from the air, though up until now the
U.S. does not seem to have done so.
So as is said, ISIS’ sources of funding grow curious and
curiouser the more one knows. Those seeking to destroy
ISIS might well wish to look into where the money comes
from, and ask why, after a year and three months of war,
no one has bothered to follow the money.
And cut it off.
Peter Van Buren, a
24-year veteran of the State Department, spent a
year in Iraq. Following his book,
We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose
the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi
People, the Department
of State began proceedings against him. Through the
efforts of the Government Accountability Project and
the ACLU, Van Buren instead retired from the State
Department on his own terms.
© 2015 Peter Van Buren