Leaked document shows makeup of an Islamic State fighting unit

As ISIS battles to retain control over their last stronghold in Iraq, newly leaked document shows just how much of a conventional army it is.

November 4, 2016 08:43
3 minute read.
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Islamic State video claims to show nine Paris attackers. (photo credit: screenshot)


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As the noose continues to tighten around Mosul, leaked documents belonging to Islamic State show the makeup of the group’s fighting force.

The documents, originating in Northern Syria, were shown to The Jerusalem Post by Aymenn al-Tamimi, a fellow at the US-based Middle East Forum who is currently located on the Syrian border.

It’s the first-ever inside account of an ISIS fighting unit to be made public.

Broadly, Islamic State’s military structure is broken down into three parts: farqa (division), liwa (brigade) and katiba (battalion).

The chart seen by the Post outlines the structure of a brigade, with each brigade consisting of four battalions. The brigade is headed by an emir (commander), who has two deputy emirs, an administration official and a shura (consultative) council.

In addition, each ISIS brigade has two administrative divisions: office administration and field administration.

Tamimi, a Syria researcher who collects and analyzes leaked ISIS documents, explaining the different responsibilities of the divisions, said, “For example, within the office administration is a division responsible for food provision and cooking, consisting of 10 people. While in the field administration, there are seven people responsible for media.”

Another aspect covered by the administrative division of a brigade is that of the “affairs of the mujihadin [insurgents].”

One document showed the bureaucratic aspects of Islamic State’s military makeup from a brigade in Aleppo province.

“What the brother needs: Wardrobe of five doors, double bed, sofa couch set,” the document read, signed by “Liwa al-Furqan, affairs of the mujahideen, admin official of the katiba”.

While it is unclear how many fighters are in each brigade or battalion, Tamimi said that “these documents are important in showing the sophisticated bureaucratic structure of IS units and how, since the caliphate was announced, the portrait is like that of a conventional army.”

Islamic State swept across large regions of Syria and Iraq in 2013, with thousands of fighters from all across the globe. Three years later, they are fighting on several fronts, facing a coalition lead by the United States, as well as the Iraqi, Syrian and Turkish armies.

ISIS tends to portray itself as strong, with a large and capable fighting force. But with several successful offensives chipping away at their territory, the group continues to lose fighters and has increasingly been sending child soldiers to the frontlines to partake in operations or to carry out suicide bombings.

Other documents obtained by Tamimi show that the group has used women as suicide bombers, going against the accepted view that the jihadist group does not allow women to carry out martyrdom operations.

In Mosul, ISIS is believed to be outnumbered by some 100,000 strong coalition soldiers, and as Iraqi and Kurdish troops continue to fight their way into the city, US Defense Secretary Ash Carter said that the offensive to oust Islamic State from the Syrian city of Raqqa, the group’s de facto capital, will begin shortly, with preparations already under way.

That would stretch the group’s military resources even further, and according to Tamimi, “If Islamic State loses in both Mosul and Raqqa, this kind of structure may disintegrate.”

Another document exposed dissent within the group.

Tamimi said one dissenter, named Abu al-Faruq al-Masri, has “access to the highest-ranking personnel in the group, who appears to have presented advice on strategy to the Majlis al-Shura [consultation council] of the Islamic State, which directly advises Baghdadi.”

According to the documents found by Tamimi, al-Masri was arrested by the group. While it is unclear for what exact reason he was arrested, Tamimi said that the documents show that al-Masri was critical of the group’s decision to “take on the world.”

“It effectively dooms the Islamic State project in its infancy,” he added. “Consequently, the group is needlessly losing soldiers in battles.”

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