WASHINGTON, Feb 18, (Agencies): A series of US airstrikes in recent months have destroyed “hundreds of millions” of dollars in Islamic State cash as part of a broader campaign aimed at squeezing the extremist group’s financial power, a US military spokesman said Wednesday. Col Steve Warren, speaking for the coalition that is fighting the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, said the effort — which has included airstrikes against oil processing and distribution facilities mainly in Syria — has forced the Islamic State to adjust by reducing salaries for its fighters.
The Associated Press reported on Tuesday that the Islamic State is having a hard time meeting expenses. It reported that the group has slashed salaries across the region, asked residents of Raqqa, its de facto capital in Syria, to pay utility bills in black market American dollars, and is now releasing detainees for a price of $500 a person. Warren said that in some cases IS has reduced salaries to fighters by as much as 50 percent. “This, to us, is one indicator that these strikes against their ability to generate revenue are beginning to squeeze them a little bit,” he said. Warren had previously estimated that strikes against IS cash holdings had eliminated tens of millions of dollars.
On Wednesday, he said the latest estimate is hundreds of millions, but he would not offer a more specific total. Of a total of 10 US airstrikes against IS cash holdings since October, seven have been in Iraq and three in Syria.
The first was Oct. 21, followed by other single strikes on Nov. 14, Dec. 16, Jan. 11 and Jan. 18. The campaign was intensified last weekend with a series of five airstrikes near Mosul, in northern Iraq, hitting what Warren described as two IS financial distribution centers and two financial storage centers. Separately, the Pentagon said Wednesday that the air campaign against IS has cost a total of $6.2 billion since it began in August 2014.
The daily cost is now averaging $11.5 million. The Islamic State’s English-language reach on Twitter has stalled in recent months amid a stepped-up crackdown against the extremist group’s army of digital proselytizers, who have long relied on the site to recruit and radicalize new adherents, according to a study being released on Thursday.
Suspensions of English-speaking users affiliated with Islamic State from June to October 2015 have limited the group’s growth and in some cases devastated the viral reach of specific users, according to the report from George Washington University’s Program on Extremism, which analyzed a list of accounts promoted by the militant group. The report found that easily discoverable English accounts sympathetic to Islamic State was usually under 1,000, and that those users’ activity was mostly insular, limited to interacting with each other. Islamic State has seized control of wide swaths of Iraq and Syria and claimed credit for attacks in Paris in November that killed 130.
The US and other governments consider it a terrorist organization. Twitter Inc has long been criticized by government officials for its relatively lax approach to policing content, even as other Silicon Valley companies like Facebook Inc began to more actively police their platforms.
Under intensified pressure from the White House, presidential candidates and some civil society groups, Twitter announced earlier this month it had shut down more than 125,000 terrorism- related accounts since the middle of 2015, most of them linked to the Islamic State group. In a blog post, the company said that while it only takes down accounts reported by other users it had increased the size of teams monitoring and responding to reports and has decreased its response time “significantly.”
J.M. Berger, a co-author of the report, said Twitter is still less active than many of its rivals but that part of that is due to its relative youth as a company. “Each company has been dragged into this kicking and screaming,” he said in an interview. Reporting of Twitter accounts affiliated with Islamic State is a steady, low-level activity generally, but occasionally events lead to “periodic purges,” Berger said.
The study took place prior to the Paris attacks, which the researchers said likely led to a heavy wave of suspensions mostly in French and Arabic networks. The average tweets per day measured across the lifetime of an account also declined during the monitored interval, from a peak of approximately 14.5 in June to a low of 5.5 by October, the report found. The average number of followers was measured between 300 and 400.