The Islamic State group [IS] has lost two-thirds of its founding leaders, but a dangerous group of inexperienced unknowns have taken the helm in their place, according to Iraqi military sources.
A new generation of mysterious young commanders have taken up senior roles within the militant group after it lost more than half of its original military and religious leaders, a high-ranking Iraqi officer based at the US-based Joint Base Andrews explained.
“Twenty of the members of the Shura council that elected Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi caliph in 2014 have been killed for example,” the officer, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, told The New Arab correspondent.
He explained that security forces had a surplus of information about the originators of the militant group, but that as they have been killed off – mostly in US-led coalition air raids – a new generation of young unknowns have taken their place.
“We don’t know anything about these inexperienced fledgeling commanders,” the source said.
He said that a monthly budget of $1 million has been allocated to collecting information about the new IS leaders through monitoring their communications as well as via informants on the ground that have agreed to provide intel to the US.
“Thanks to our informants we have gotten rid of the majority of the top military commanders,” he said.
At least 56 of IS’ top leaders have been killed since 2015, including well-known figures such as Abu Muslim al-Turkmani who was second-in-command in Iraq and Abu Ali al-Anbari – his Syrian counterpart.
Last August, IS spokesman and senior commander, Abu Muhammad al-Adnani, was killed while overseeing military operations in northern Syria.
IS now controls less than seven percent of Iraq, down from the 40 percent it held nearly three years ago, an Iraqi military spokesman said on Tuesday.
Iraqi forces backed by US-led airstrikes and other support are now battling IS inside second city Mosul, after retaking much of other militant-held territories.
IS leader Baghdadi, who has a $33 million bounty on his head, might be trapped in Mosul having failed to escape the besieged city, according to an Iraqi militia leader.
The extremist group has also lost ground in Syria, and is currently fighting US-backed forces near Raqqa, the de facto capital of its self-styled Islamic caliphate.
Colonel Hussein al-Amiri of the Nineveh Operations Command told The New Arab that eliminating the founding leaders of IS was extremely important but that the “ghostly” new generation of commanders was equally as dangerous.
“The new leaders don’t have the same charisma as their predecessors although many of them are more brutal,” Amiri said.
“The emergence of the new leadership has been strategically confusing for everyone because they are like ghosts to us. We have no pictures of them or basic information about them,” he said.
“We don’t even know their real names. They could have travelled to Baghdad or the south many times without anyone recognising them. I think this poses the greatest danger,” the Colonel said.
He added that US-led coalition’s current plan was to “finish off” the founding members in the hope that it will prompt the disintegration of the group under its inexperienced leadership.
[This article was originally published by The New Arab]