As the U.S.-led coalition and Syrian fighters continue the battle to retake the city of Manbij in Syria, captured information reveals the Islamic State of Iraq and The Levant’s thought processes and plans, Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve spokesman Army Col. Christopher Garver told Pentagon reporters today.
In a teleconferenced news briefing from Baghdad, Garver said coalition forces have recovered 4 terabytes -- about 10,000 pieces of information, such as laptops, thumb drives, textbooks and notes -- from the battlefield encircling Manbij.
Manbij has been important to ISIL because of its strategic location and activity, and the coalition-gathered materials are yielding massive amounts of intelligence that tell a lot about ISIL’s organization, the colonel said.
ISIL Fighter Staging Area
“[From] that material we're sifting through, we figured out they ran several foreign fighter reception staging areas inside Manbij [where] a foreign fighter would enter,” he said.
“They would screen them, figure out what languages they speak, assign them a job and send them down into wherever they were going to go, be it into Syria or Iraq,” the spokesman said.
Garver said he’s not surprised at the amount of ISIL activity in the region. “It just goes to show how the self-proclaimed caliphate is not like any other organization we’ve dealt with before,” he said.
The recovered textbooks offer more information than how ISIL plans attacks, he said, noting that ISIL-rewritten textbooks contain high-end math and science, and word problems rewritten into pro-ISIL language.
Rewritten Books Dictate ‘Caliphate’ Life
“These are textbooks on how to control the lives of everybody that's inside it, how everyone should live their lives, and how if you don't live your life that way, you're an enemy of the state -- of the so-called, self-proclaimed state,” Garver said.
“They certainly were industrious in being able to put all these aspects into their governance, but it gets back to why we have to defeat them,” the colonel said.
“This is unlike any other organization that we've fought before,” he said, “and with this sort of totalitarian attempt to control everything, it poses a significant threat not just to the people inside, but everybody that they want to expand out to, as well.”
Because most of the information is written in Arabic and massive amount of documents exist, it will take time to sift through all of it, Garver said.
Intel Find A ‘Big Deal’
The colonel said the massive information find is a big deal, particularly because it reveals how ISIL ran Manbij as a strategic hub with multiple reception centers.
“Anything that can connect us to external operations from Syria is a benefit to everybody. It benefits the whole global coalition that is working to counter ISIL's operations around the world,” he said.
And as coalition fighters enter Manbij, they are finding ISIL-occupied homes rigged with homemade bombs, which Garver said might have been an attempt to destroy the information that was kept inside, or a method to kill coalition fighters, particularly as ISIL loses terrain.
Unlike other battles to retake cities, such as Fallujah in Iraq, ISIL fighters are collapsing back into the center of Manbij as the fight for it develops, he said.
“The enemy is fighting very hard,” Garver added. “They’re putting snipers in minarets [and] mosques. They’ve got machine guns. They’ve got [homemade bombs] all over the place … we’ve seen these tactics before.”