A still image taken from an Islamic State (ISIS) video .
(photo credit: REUTERS)
After the Iraqi Counter-Terrorism Forces had cleared the village of Gogjali on the eastern edge of Mosul city in early November, they came across supplies abandoned by Islamic State. Some 100 bags of Sorbitol manufactured by the French company Tereos were found alongside a bag of potassium nitrate made by the Turkish company Toros.
“Sorbitol is a sugar substitute that IS[IS] forces use in the production of propellant,” noted a research paper released Wednesday by Conflict Armament Research (CAR), an organization devoted to identifying and tracking conventional weapons and ammunition in conflicts.
What was striking about the Sorbitol is that it was produced in 2015, a year after ISIS atrocities became well known and an international coalition of more than 62 countries signed on to fight the extremists. Yet, even as Turkey was securing its border with a concrete wall along the areas ISIS occupied in Syria, the group was apparently still able to acquire supplies and transport them through Syria to Iraq.
“Such a large quantity of chemical precursor originating from the same manufacturer and produced at the same time, suggests large-scale diversion and a single supply source,” the report noted.
ISIS tries to obstruct Mosul Operation by lighting oil in trenche
CAR has revealed that ISIS operated a sophisticated centralized supply network, not only in acquiring items for weapons it produced, such as mortars, but also in how it distributed the ingredients to local fighters throughout Iraq.
After a 20-month investigation, CAR published an extensive report in February 2016 and has continued to shed light on how ISIS obtains supplies.
CAR’s latest investigation, which was supported by European Union funding, points out that “except for locally available material, such as steel, ISIS forces source most of the products used to manufacture explosive weapons from Turkey.” Furthermore, “these findings indicate that the group has, first, a major acquisition network operating in Turkey and, second, a clear supply route through Syria, to Iraq.”
Islamic State is well known for its atrocities, such as massacring thousands of Yazidis and beheading journalists. However, the organization also built up a force of more than 50,000 fighters, many of them foreign volunteers who traveled through Turkey from points in Europe, Chechnya, Tunisia and the Far East to join in 2014.
Initially ISIS relied on more than 2,000 vehicles it captured from the Iraqi army in June of 2014 to make its gains in Iraq and solidify control of a corridor along the Euphrates river in Syria. However, US-led airstrikes and stiff resistance by Kurds and the Iraqi army destroyed most of ISIS’s armored vehicles by mid-2015.
The extremists embarked on a standardized and massive program of local factories for weapons development.
CAR found manuals for producing rockets, with specifications for 9.5 kg. warheads and detailed specs for 120 mm. mortars, among other calibers. To build tubes to fire the mortars, ISIS used steel pipes. CAR documented two foundries for producing weapons in Gogjali that were located near scrap metal junk yards. They discovered that the group cut car engine blocks into pieces for use.
There is no doubt about the effectiveness and innovation ISIS employed. In four trips to northern Iraq along the front line held by Kurdish Peshmerga, this reporter witnessed the accurate mortar fire the organization used.
ISIS also built a network of tunnels and became proficient in building complex improvised explosive devices (IEDs) to mine roads and houses. Trainers working the Combined Joint Task Force who are experts in IEDs said in July that ISIS improvisations were constantly evolving.
To build the explosives and propellants, ISIS needed supplies. Not all of the products used came from Turkey. One bag CAR found was made by the Lebanese Al Khaleej Sugar in January 2015 and sold to the Trade Ministry in Baghdad.
However, most items came via Turkey. Drums of aluminum found near Mosul and Fallujah were constructed at Metkim Kimyevi Maddeler in Turkey.
“The batch numbers of these items indicated transactions dated October 2014 to January 2015 respectively,” noted the report. Lubricants used in ISIS factories were made as late as September 2015. Fertilizers bags discovered in Tikrit after its liberation from ISIS control also were found to have come from Turkey in 2015. Detonators left behind by ISIS in Makhmour were found to have originated in Austria.
CAR called the supply route through Turkey a key “choke point” involved in stopping the supplies.
In June 2016, Turkey’s agriculture minister stopped sales of nitrate fertilizer after a car bombing in Turkey. However, the ability of ISIS to keep its supply line open through the fall of 2015 and likely after, shows that despite efforts to prevent the flow of fighters and weapons to the extremists, goods were still finding their way to Mosul.
With the offensive to retake Mosul and Raqqa, more evidence of how ISIS was able to supply itself and keep its fighters provisioned will be revealed.