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Thursday, February 26, 2015

A Year of War Completely Destroyed the Donetsk Airport - The Atlantic

Devastating! What a Shame !  
Very, very sad !!

A Year of War Completely Destroyed the Donetsk Airport

In Donetsk, in eastern Ukraine, the Sergey Prokofiev International Airport has been reduced from a modern transportation hub to piles of scorched rubble in less than a year of warfare. As recently as last May, the airport was still operating and in good condition, though international flights had slowed due to the growing unrest. On May 26, Russian-backed separatist forces of the Donetsk People's Republic seized the airport, losing it to Ukrainian government forces after a brief fight. For months after, battles raged as both sides struggled to hold or retake the facilities, their bombs and rockets destroying practically everything, from buildings and aircraft to roads and trees. This week, as a cease-fire held, rebels (now in control of the ruins) brought Ukrainian war prisoners to the airport to recover bodies of their fellow troops from the rubble, and photojournalists were able to come along and document the scene.
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  • This is an aerial view of the Donetsk Airport on June 27, 2012. The airport was one of several showcase buildings constructed for the Euro 2012 Championship hosted by Ukraine. 
    Irina Gorbaseva/AP
  • Passengers wait for information at Donetsk airport on May 6, 2014, as all flights in and out of the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk were suspended amid rising tensions in the region. 
    Alexander Khudoteply/AFP/Getty Images
  • A June 27, 2012 photo shows the control tower of the airport in Donetsk. 
    Irina Gorbaseva/AP
  • Passengers queue at a desk to return their tickets on May 6, 2014 at Donetsk airport, as all flights in and out of the city were suspended. 
    Alexander Khudoteply/AFP/Getty Images
  • A June 27, 2012, aerial shot of the airport in Donetsk 
    Irina Gorbaseva/AP
  • On May 26, 2014, a pro-Russian militant takes position on the roof of the Donetsk airport terminal. The airport was rocked by explosions and heavy shooting after armed rebels seized the facility. 
    Alexander Khudoteply/AFP/Getty Images
  • Pro-Russian militants take positions inside the airport in Donetsk on May 26, 2014. 
    Alexander Khudoteply/AFP/Getty Images
  • Pro-Russian militants take positions on the roof of the Donetsk airport on May 26, 2014. 
    Alexander Khudoteply/AFP/Getty Images
  • An armed pro-Russian militant inside the airport on May 26, 2014 
    Alexander Khudoteply/AFP/Getty Images
  • A Ukrainian military helicopter gunship flies above areas where pro-Russian militias had taken position around the airport, outside Donetsk, on May 26, 2014. 
    Vadim Ghirda/AP
  • Black smoke billows from Donetsk international airport, seen behind a cemetery, during heavy gun battles between the Ukrainian army and pro-Russian militants on May 26, 2014. 
    Dimitar Dilkoff/AFP/Getty Images
  • A pro-Russian separatist soldier fires through a window in the Donetsk airport during shelling between Ukrainian army forces and pro-Russian separatist soldiers on October 16, 2014. 
    Dominique Faget/AFP/Getty Images
  • Flames engulf a vehicle during shelling of the Donetsk airport on October 16, 2014. 
    Dominique Faget/AFP/Getty Images
  • Pro-Russian separatist fighters take a break in a damaged part of the Donetsk airport on October 16, 2014. 
    Dominique Faget/AFP/Getty Images
  • This photo taken by a drone on January 15, 2015 shows the destroyed control tower surrounded by craters and debris at the airport in Donetsk. 
  • Destroyed commercial airplanes sit scattered at the Donetsk airport on February 26, 2015. 
    Andrew Burton/Getty Images
  • Shattered and burnt tree trunks stand outside a section of a destroyed airport building in Donetsk on February 26, 2015. 
    Vasily MaximovAFP/Getty Images
  • A Ukrainian national flag flies at top of a badly damaged traffic control tower as smoke rises after shelling at the Donetsk airport on October 12, 2014. 
    Shamil Zhumatov/Reuters
  • Debris covers part of the Donetsk airport, damaged by months of fighting, on February 26, 2015. 
    Baz Ratner/Reuters
  • A picture taken on Febuary 7, 2015 shows a destroyed tank and plane at the Donetsk airport. 
    Dominique Faget/AFP/Getty Images
  • A sports bar sits among the wreckage of the destroyed Donetsk airport on February 26, 2015. 
    Andrew Burton/Getty Images
  • Destroyed cars sit near the Donetsk airport on February 26, 2015. 
    Andrew Burton/Getty Images
  • Inside the destroyed airport in Donetsk on January 21, 2015 
    Igor Ivanov/AP
  • A sign riddled with shrapnel holes stands outside the hulk of the Donetsk airport terminal, damaged by months of fighting, on February 26, 2015 
    Baz Ratner/Reuters
  • The carcass of a destroyed airplane on the tarmac of the Donetsk airport on October 16, 2014 
    Dominique Faget/AFP/Getty Images
  • A picture taken on October 16, 2014 shows part of the destroyed terminal at the Donetsk airport during shelling between Ukrainian army forces and pro-Russian separatist soldiers. 
    Dominique Faget/AFP/Getty Images
  • Remains of the Donetsk airport, seen on January 21, 2015 
    Igor Ivanov/AP
  • Russian-backed rebels sit on an armored transporter driving to the destroyed airport, background, outside Donetsk, on February 25, 2015. Ukrainian troops held captive in the separatist stronghold of Donetsk were brought along to dig through the rubble to retrieve the bodies of fellow soldiers killed last month in a bitter battle for the city's airport. 
    Vadim Ghirda/AP
  • Ukrainian soldier prisoners-of-war are lined up before being forced by pro-Russian rebels to search through the wreckage of the destroyed Donetsk airport for weaponry and dead bodies on February 26, 2015 in Donetsk, Ukraine. 
    Andrew Burton/Getty Images
  • Ukrainian soldier prisoners-of-war are forced by pro-Russian rebels to search through the wreckage of the destroyed Donetsk airport for weaponry and dead bodies on February 26, 2015. 
    Andrew Burton/Getty Images
  • Russian-backed separatists stand next to bodies of Ukrainian servicemen retrieved from the rubble of the airport building outside Donetsk on February 25, 2015. 
    Vadim Ghirda/AP
  • A belt bearing the coat of arms of Ukraine on the body of a Ukrainian serviceman lying in the destroyed terminal after it was removed from the rubble of the airport building outside Donetsk on February 25, 2015 
    Vadim Ghirda/AP
  • A section of the destroyed airport in Donetsk on February 26, 2015 
    Vasily MaximovAFP/Getty Images

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Instant Alert: Here's how ISIS became the richest terrorist group in history - - Gmail

by Joseph Sarkisian on Feb 5, 2015, 12:01 PM

ISIS is officially the richest
 terrorist group in existence.

Through its illicit oil sales — worth between $1 million and $2 million a day — as well as kidnapping and extortion networks, robbery, front companies, racketeering, and outside donations, the group has amassed
 a $2 billion fortune.

A cleverly-structured, disciplined and dynamic force
, ISIS is able to adapt both militarily and economically to an evolving landscape quicker than its terrorist predecessors and competitors, as well as its adversaries like the US.  Attempting to defeat ISIS by starving it of funds is a smart approach.

However, a look at the way it generates revenue and the tools America and its allies have available to block its financing shows this is easier said than done.

The Business of ISIS is Business

A comparison of ISIS and Al Qaeda’s initial revenue-generating strategies shows they both shared similar hierarchical
 structures in their early days and were dependent largely on outside donations.

Both have since outgrown their dependence on outside funding and moved into generating their own revenue. Al Qaeda’s finances have never been as impressive as what ISIS has amassed in a much shorter time period.
The former’s “franchise” model necessitated “Al Qaeda Core” provide seed-funding to its affiliates, which were then encouraged to become self-sufficient thereafter. In contrast, ISIS remains a largely centralized and amalgamated organization that seeks to establish an “Islamic State.”
In order to achieve economic independence, for example, ISIS-predecessor Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) sold stolen goods to make up the bulk of their earnings
 in 2005-2006, followed by car sales, transfers from other Al Qaeda affiliates, “spoils”–revenue generated from the pillaging of “apostates”–and, last, donations from ideological supporters.

Al Qaeda’s fractured, flat structure necessitates crafty income generation
, even going so far as committing identity theft, stealing credit card data, and engaging in small scale financial fraud. There is little evidence that Al Qaeda has ever been able to generate significant income from illicit oil sales the way ISIS does.

ISIS is making the majority of its money from the sale of a valuable commodity — oil.
ISIS boasts an elaborate network
 of oil fields and refineries it has taken by force that allow it to pump upwards of 25,000 barrels per day. That oil is sold at a discount from the market rate ($25-$60 per barrel), given that the group cannot sell it on any legitimate market.

While the oil must be transported, routed around checkpoints, and otherwise smuggled through contested territory at times, vast profits are still earned given that the cost of production for ISIS is so low.
ISIS does not have to pay taxes or to lease or purchase the fields, nor did it have to invest in the building of refineries or infrastructure. It simply stole them. While Al Qaeda’s more piecemeal approach to revenue generation does not bring in the same amount that ISIS does, its flattened structure makes it more difficult to disrupt.
ISIS operates out in the open in comparison to Al Qaeda, and disrupting its main source of income – oil revenue — may be an easier task than tracking VIN numbers of Al Qaeda’s illicit car sales.

Turning off the Taps

Extremist groups can make as much money as they desire. But if they cannot move it or spend it, operational capacity to cause harm and motivate members will drastically decrease. Identifying, seizing, and blocking the transfer of funds across regulated banks are obvious ways of achieving this.
isis money
Over the last ten years, much emphasis has

 also been placed on hawala networks that exist for expatriates to send money home from working abroad, but which are also used to move funds for terrorism. They are discreet, hard to trace, and almost completely unregulated. 

Hawaladeers have been used to move small to medium size cash amounts to fund terror operations. But when one looks at the way ISIS and Al Qaeda earn their money, hawala may not be a relevant place to look for the majority of monetary movement.
Looking again at how AQI made most of its money at the height of its power in Iraq — mostly through selling stolen property — it becomes clear that cash for local or regional terror operations does not need to be transferred via banks or remittance networks over thousands of miles and instead can be packed in the back of a pickup truck and driven to its destination without a trace.
But operations across international borders, such as the Al Qaeda-engineered 9/11 attacks, required frequent movements of operational funds across the globe which, after the fact, created a trail for investigators to follow.
ISIS Islamic State
In contrast to Al Qaeda, as yet ISIS has not focused on funding large international terrorist attacks and has instead concentrated on consolidating an “Islamic State” in Iraq and Syria, though other lone individuals and groups — such as those committing the recent Ottawa and Paris attacks — have pledged allegiance to it.

ISIS is not making large volumes of electronic international monetary transfers that can be traced or interdicted as with Al Qaeda, who had and has affiliates or cells to fund.
Both groups have outgrown dependence on large transfers from outside benefactors and are now generating their own revenue streams.
ISIS is spending its money on conventional military operations within its territory and its media propaganda machine and is making the majority of its money from the sale of a valuable commodity — oil — for which it receives cash in hand at the point of sale, much as its predecessor AQI did for much less-lucrative sales of stolen goods. Interdicting such direct sales for cash in lawless territory is difficult or impossible.
Other sources of income for ISIS are just as difficult to stop. ISIS fighters have been setting up checkpoints in commercial centers where vehicles are forced to pay whatever they may have to the group. The victims are told they are paying an Islamic charity tax – zakat — and the money is going directly into ISIS’ coffers.
ISIS racketeering networks have hobbled businesses within their territory much as organized crime syndicates have operated for decades.
ISIS demands money from businesses with threats of violence if they do not pay up. In Mosul alone, a city that seems to play a central role in the racketeering game, the amount adds up to roughly $1 million a month in revenue for the group.
While Al Qaeda may be dealing with an identity crisis
 given ISIS’ rapid and forceful maturation into a much stronger competitor, it does not mean that its ability to create chaos is diminished. Western means of waging financial war come down to sanctions and freezing of funds.

isis wheat
However, both Al Qaeda and ISIS are well-practiced at working around the denial of access to legitimate commercial markets and banks. Blocking ISIS and Al Qaeda from the international banking system and markets is effective, but they have found ways to work around the restrictions.

Tracking down other means, such as hawala transfers, is painstaking and relatively fruitless given that both groups’ fundraising has outgrown sole reliance on outside donations requiring cash transfers.
And, in the case of ISIS, the group is holding much of its funds close to its chest for its regional operations, rather than attempting to disperse it as seed-money to affiliates worldwide or to fund international terrorist attacks.
The destruction or denial of the physical assets terrorist groups depend upon for financing is another way to interrupt their revenue stream.
However, recent attempts to disrupt ISIS financing by bombing oil refineries may have provided the group with a huge PR win, making it possible to frame the debate as “infidels” and “crusaders” trying to starve the people of needed energy. It also causes setbacks for the government in Baghdad which will have to rebuild destroyed oil infrastructure once — if ever — the ISIS threat is dealt with. That will be expensive and time consuming.
 points out, destroying ISIS’ oil assets means they would likely shift to the other, less overt means of revenue generation such as Al Qaeda has depended upon. While this may stem the flow of ISIS’ cash, it carries its own new problems. ISIS has already amassed a large amount of capital — more than Al Qaeda has ever had.

However, without its own boots on the ground or strong local partner forces that can disrupt localized, cash-based oil sales or extortion rings in ISIS territory, much of ISIS’ income is protected from outside interdiction. Disrupting ISIS’ financing is not as easy as it sounds.
Joseph Sarkisian is a policy analyst under private contract and frequent  contributor to a number of online publications. His main areas of interest are Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, and Syria.