Military of ISIL

Military of ISIL
Current military situation (as of 6 December 2014)
  Controlled by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant
  Controlled by other Syrian rebels
  Controlled by Syrian government
  Controlled by Iraqi government
  Controlled by Syrian Kurds
  Controlled by Iraqi Kurds
Active 1999–Present



In Iraq and Syria
200,000[7] (Kurdish claims)
20,000–31,000 (CIA estimate, Sept. 2014)

Outside Iraq and Syria
1,000+ (In Turkey)[2]
1,000[8]–2,000[9] (In Egypt)
800[10] (In Libya)
1,000[11] (In Algeria)
4,200+ (In Jordan)[12]
12,000–20,000 (disputed)[13][4] (In Pakistan)

500–2,000 (In the Philippines)
Headquarters Ar-Raqqah

Iraq War

Iraqi insurgency

Syrian Civil War

2014 military intervention against ISIL

Libyan Civil War (2014)

Sinai insurgency

List of wars and battles involving ISIL

Abu Omar al-Shishani Syria/Iraq

Muhammand Abdullah Libya
Black Standard (variant)

The Military of the ISIL, is the name describing the fighting forces of the rebel group Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). The total force size has been estimated from tens of thousands to over two hundred thousand, which grew quickly during 2014. The ISIL military, including groups incorporated into it in late 2014, openly operates and controls territory in Iraq, Syria, Eastern Libya and the Sinai Peninsula. It also has made border clashes and incursions into Lebanon, Iran, and Jordan. It also claims to operate in Algeria, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Pakistan,[4] and the Philippines.[6]

Their military is based on mobile foot militant units using light vehicles such as gun equipped pick-up trucks (technicals), motorbikes and buses for fast advances. They also use artillery, tanks and armored vehicles captured from the Iraqi and Syrian Armies. It is alleged that the ISIL military had gained control of 3 aircraft from the Syrian Army and are flying them over Syria, although two of these were reportedly shot down by Syria.

ISIL has a long history of using truck and car bombs, suicide bombers, and IEDs. They have also deployed chemical weapons in Iraq and Syrian Kurdistan. Terror tactics include genocide, mass executions including beheadings, and psychological operations through sophisticated propaganda. A significant number of ISIL fighters are from outside Iraq and Syria.

Command structure

According to the Institute for the Study of War, ISIL's 2013 annual report reveals a metrics-driven military command, which is "a strong indication of a unified, coherent leadership structure that commands from the top down".[14] Middle East Forum's Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi said, "They are highly skilled in urban guerrilla warfare while the new Iraqi Army simply lacks tactical competence."[15]

Little is known about the military command structure of ISIL. Sources indicate that Abu Muslim al-Turkmani (Deputy Leader in Iraq) was an Iraqi Army General and Abu Ali al-Anbari (Deputy Leader in Syria) was also an Iraqi Army Major General, both under the Saddam Hussein government. Chechen born fighter Abu Omar al-Shishani is a prominent figure in the ISIL military and it has been speculated that he may have become the military chief for the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant following the death of Abu Abdul-Rahman al-Bilawi al-Anbari in Mosul in June 2014.[16] Reports indicate that the military is organized into brigades such as a female unit tasked with policing religious laws[17] and a 1,000 solder strong group that defected to ISIL in July 2014.[18] According to battle reports ISIL often operates in small mobile fighting units.

The group also operates outside areas it fully controls using a cell structure. A senior militant commander in Sinai told Reuters “They [ISIL] teach us how to carry out operations. We communicate through the internet, ... they teach us how to create secret cells, consisting of five people. Only one person has contact with other cells. They are teaching us how to attack security forces, the element of surprise. They told us to plant bombs then wait 12 hours so that the man planting the device has enough time to escape from the town he is in.”[19]


Troops in Iraq and Syria

In June 2014, ISIL had at least 4,000 fighters in Iraq,[20] and the CIA estimated in September 2014 that it had 20,000–31,500 fighters in Iraq and Syria.[21] The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights estimates that the force numbers around 80,000–100,000 total (up to 50,000 in Syria and 30,000 in Iraq).[22][23] The CIA estimated on 12 September 2014 that ISIL forces stand at 20,000–31,500 troops.[21] By November 2014, a Kurdish leader stated that ISIL's military had increased to 200,000 fighters.[7]

In addition to volunteers and jihadists, ISIL is known for forcing other rebel groups and conscripting individuals to submit to and fight for ISIL. Many reports say troops and equipment move between various parts of Iraq, Syria and Lebanon as tactical needs arise.

Foreign fighters in Iraq and Syria

There are many foreign fighters in ISIL's ranks. In June 2014, The Economist reported that "ISIS may have up to 6,000 fighters in Iraq and 3,000–5,000 in Syria, including perhaps 3,000 foreigners; nearly a thousand are reported to hail from Chechnya and perhaps 500 or so more from France, Britain and elsewhere in Europe".[24] Chechen leader Abu Omar al-Shishani, for example, was made commander of the northern sector of ISIL in Syria in 2013.[25][26] According to The New York Times, in September 2014 there were more than 2,000 Europeans and 100 Americans among ISIL's foreign fighters.[27] As of mid-September 2014, around 1,000 Turks had joined ISIL,[28] and as of October 2014, 2,400–3,000 Tunisians had joined the group.[29] An ISIL deserter alleged that foreign recruits were treated with less respect than Arabic-speaking Muslims by ISIL commanders and were placed in suicide units if they lacked otherwise useful skills.[30]

Allegiance to ISIL from groups outside Iraq and Syria

  • [31]
  • Barka Province of ISIL formed from the Shura Council of Islamic Youth (Libya)[32][33]
  • [34]
  • Unidentified militants in Saudi Arabia and Yemen - designated as provinces of ISIL[31]
  • Militants of the group Sons of the Call for Tawhid and Jihad (Jordan) pledging allegiance to ISIL[12]
  • Militants of the group Free Sunnis of Baalbek Brigade (Lebanon) pledging allegiance to ISIL[6]
  • [6](Pakistan) pledging allegiance to ISIL
  • [6]


Conventional weapons

The most common weapons used against US and other Coalition forces during the Iraq insurgency were those taken from Saddam Hussein's weapon stockpiles around the country, these included AKM variant assault rifles, PK machine guns and RPG-7s.[37] ISIL has been able to strengthen its military capability by capturing large quantities and varieties of weaponry during the Syrian Civil War and Post-US Iraqi insurgency. These weapons seizures have improved the group's capacity to carry out successful subsequent operations and obtain more equipment.[38] Weaponry that ISIL has reportedly captured and employed include SA-7[39] and Stinger[40] surface-to-air missiles, M79 Osa, HJ-8[41] and AT-4 Spigot[39] anti-tank weapons, Type 59 field guns[41] and M198 howitzers,[42] Humvees, T-54/55, T-72, and M1 Abrams[43] main battle tanks,[41] M1117 armoured cars,[44] truck-mounted DShK guns,[39] ZU-23-2 anti-aircraft guns,[45][46] BM-21 Grad multiple rocket launchers,[38] and at least one Scud missile.[47]

ISIL shot down an Iraqi helicopter in October 2014, and claim to have shot down "several other" helicopters in 2014. Observes fear that they have "advanced surface-to-air missile systems" such as the Chinese-made FN-6, which are thought to have been provided to Syrian rebels by Qatar and/or Saudi Arabia and purchased or captured by ISIL.[48]


When ISIL captured Mosul Airport in June 2014, it seized a number of UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters and cargo planes that were stationed there.[49][50] According to Peter Beaumont of The Guardian, it seemed unlikely that ISIL would be able to deploy them.[51]

ISIL also captured fighter aircraft in Syria. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported in October 2014 that former Iraqi pilots were training ISIL militants to fly captured Syrian jets. Witnesses reported that MiG-21 and MiG-23 jets were flying over al-Jarrah military airport, but the US Central Command said it was not aware of flights by ISIL-operated aircraft in Syria or elsewhere.[52] On 21 October, the Syrian Air Force claimed that it had shot down two of these aircraft over al-Jarrah air base while they were landing.[53]


ISIL captured nuclear materials from Mosul University in July 2014. In a letter to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Iraq's UN Ambassador Mohamed Ali Alhakim said that the materials had been kept at the university and "can be used in manufacturing weapons of mass destruction". Nuclear experts regarded the threat as insignificant. International Atomic Energy Agency spokeswoman Gill Tudor said that the seized materials were "low grade and would not present a significant safety, security or nuclear proliferation risk".[54][55]

Reports suggest ISIL captured Saddam era chemical weapons from an Iraqi military base[56] and has deployed chlorine gas based chemical weapons against Iraqi Government forces, Syrian Government and Syrian Opposition Forces[57][58] and unidentified chemical weapons against Kurds in Kobane, Syria.[59]

ISIL has a long history of using truck and car bombs, suicide bombers, and IEDs.

Equipment table of commonly used weapons

Infantry weapons

Assault Rifles

Name Type Quantity Origin Photo Notes
AK 47 Selective fire Assault Rifle 8000+[60] Soviet Union Most commonly used
M16 rifle Assault Rifle 1000+[60] United States Captured from Iraqi Army & Police
M4 carbine Carbine Rifle 1000+[60] United States Captured from Iraqi Army & Police

Explosives, anti-tank weapons, and anti-aircraft launchers

Name Type Quantity Origin Photo Notes
IED Improvised explosive device Most commonly used Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant
M62 grenade Hand grenade Multiple caches United States
RPG-7 Rocket propelled grenade launcher Commonly used Soviet Union
M79 Osa Anti tank rocket launcher Yugoslavia
Hongjian-8 Wire guided anti tank missile China
AT-4 Spigot Wire guided anti tank missile Soviet Union
9K38 Igla MANPADS Soviet Union
9K32 Strela-2/
SA-7 Grail
MANPADS "limited, aging stock" Soviet Union
FIM-92 Stinger MANPADS United States
FN-6[62] MANPADS China Reportedly used in 3 October 2014 in Baiji to shoot down an Iraqi Mi‑35M helicopter.[62]


Logistics and utility vehicles

Name Type Quantity Origin Photo Notes
HMMWV Light Utility Vehicle 100+[63][64][65][66] United States Many captured
Ain Jaria-1 Infantry Mobility Vehicle Poland
Cougar MRAP Light Utility Vehicle unknown United States
Technicals improvised fighting vehicles varies

Tanks and armored fighting vehicles

Name Type Quantity Origin Photo Notes
T-55/55MV/AM/AMV Main battle tank 45+[60] Soviet Union
MT-LB Armored personnel carrier Soviet Union [67]
T-62M/K Main battle tank 10-15[60] Soviet Union
T-72/72M/A/AV /TURMS-T/M1 TURMS-T Main battle tank 5+[60] Soviet Union
M113 APC Armored personnel carrier United States Captured from Iraq Army[68]
M1A1M Abrams Main battle tank 1-5[60] United States Captured from Iraq Army[68]


Name Type Quantity Origin Photo Notes
M198 Howitzer Towed howitzer Up to 52[69] United States
BM-21 Grad Multiple Rocket Launcher Soviet Union
ZU-23-2 Towed Anti-Aircraft Twin Autocannon Soviet Union
Type 59 Field gun Soviet Union


Name Type Quantity Origin Photo Notes
Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk Utility helicopter [49][50] United States No evidence of deployment
Mil Mi-28 or Mil Mi-24 Attack helicopter 1[70] Soviet Union
Deployed in Samaraa according to some sources
MiG-21 or MiG-23 Interceptor/Fighter 3[71][72] Soviet Union
Two have been claimed to have been shot down by the Syrian Air Force.[53]
Mohajer 4 Drone and others Drone (UAV) 5+[73][74][75][76] ISIL demonstrated the use of a reconnaissance drone in "Clanking of the Swords IV" (June 2014) and in October 2014 over Kobani in the John Cantlie video and also in the Tabqah Air Base video. Captured from the Syrian Army.

See also


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