The Islamic State terrorist army, in its rapid arms buildup, is now searching for foreign technicians who can come to Syria and Iraq and show its fighters how to use and maintain their weapons.
A U.S. military officer familiar with the Islamic State said that the Sunni extremist group is sending word through the arms trade’s secretive black market that it needs outside advisers — and is willing to pay.
“They’ve captured our weapons, and now they’re trying to use them against us, but some of them are too sophisticated for them, and so they need special instructions,” the officer said.
Rogue weapons technicians — the military officer mentioned Russia and Bulgaria as possible providers — are willing to help nefarious groups if the money is right. But the officer said it remains to be seen whether any high-caliber technicians would get in bed with a group as violent and murderous as the Islamic State, also known by the acronyms ISIS and ISIL.
Retired Army Lt. Gen. James Dubik, an analyst at the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War, said the Islamic State is adept at recruiting for all types of skills.
“They have a very sophisticated recruiting system and recruiting conduits,” Mr. Dubik said. “There are a number of Americans and Europeans who have already signed up to work with ISIL. It’s not inconceivable that they could attract some former soldiers.”
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The Islamic State had long maintained a relatively rudimentary arsenal of guns, rocket-propelled grenades and modified Toyota trucks. But its sweep through Iraq allowed it to capture American vehicles, tanks, howitzers and mortars.
Former Iraqi security force members under Saddam Hussein’s Sunni rule have joined the Islamic State, with an aim of bringing down the Shiite-led government in Baghdad. Some are intelligence veterans who have schooled the Islamic State’s top leaders in how to evade U.S. monitoring, a former U.S. Army intelligence officer says.
There are other skills.
Retired Army Maj. Gen. Robert Scales said that mechanics are among the group’s ex-Iraqi soldiers.
“They do very well with the basic stuff, because some of the Iraqis [who] joined the force came from the army,” he said. “They would do particularly well with mortars and artillery.”
Mr. Scales said the Islamic State captured a complete battalion’s worth of M198 towed howitzers. “It’s a very, very simple piece of gear to maintain and to operate,” he said. “That’s why the Army bought it.”
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Despite a smattering of news media reports, the Islamic State does not control any American aircraft, such as fighter jets or helicopters, according to U.S. Central Command.
The Pentagon is guarded in discussing what American weapons the Islamic State does control. War video shows that the group is operating M1A1 Abrams, the U.S. Army’s main battle tank. The U.S. provided Iraq more than 100 M1A1s.
But the tanks and vehicles will become useless eventually unless the terrorists obtain the expertise to maintain them.
“I think they’re probably going to move into cannibalization as their maintenance and supply preference, which of course will erode over time,” Mr. Dubik said. “So as things break down, they’ll steal parts off the broken-down things to keep the other things running.”
Michael Pregent, a former adviser to the Iraqi Kurds, estimated in a Wall Street Journal column that the Islamic State has fewer than 30 M1A1 tanks.
Mr. Scales said the terrorist group’s employment of the M1A1 is not complicated. Tank crews are not called on to execute complex combined arms maneuvers. Instead, they are summoned to bulldoze over a structure or to fire the gun at something.
“Basically, pull up next to a building and blow it away,” he said.
Said Mr. Dubik: “I think they could be able to figure out the knobs and switches to run it until something broke. But they would probably not be able to fix M1 tanks.”
The Islamic State certainly has the cash to pay soldiers of fortune — in this case mechanics and technicians.
Rep. Jeb Hensarling, Texas Republican and chairman of the House Committee on Financial Services, said the group is raising $1 million or more a day in black-market oil sales. Its total assets: $2 billion.
The hefty balance sheet makes it the wealthiest terrorist organization in history.
David S. Cohen, Treasury undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, told Mr. Hensarling’s committee that “ISIL has grabbed the world’s attention for its astounding brutality but also for its substantial wealth.”
Mr. Cohen acknowledged that the intelligence community is having trouble identifying the actual salesmen and buyers in the Islamic State’s lucrative oil business.
• Rowan Scarborough can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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