Twitter, YouTube analysis pinpoints IS strategy

By Eric Randolph ,AFP

PARIS — Tweets and YouTube videos by fighters from the Islamic State group have allowed analysts to pinpoint their movements in Iraq and Syria, highlighting the group’s increasing push towards government strongholds. The data compiled by UK-based analysts from IHS Conflict Monitor, and shared exclusively with AFP, shows how the Islamic State (IS) group is probing beyond the territory it currently holds and pushing the bulk of its forces towards Damascus and Baghdad. IHS ranks the most reliable Twitter and YouTube accounts from known IS militants, as well as opposition activists and government sources, using the geo-location data from around 4,000 entries a month to map attacks ranging from assassinations to large-scale bomb attacks. ��The Islamic State is shifting its attention to the weakened Syrian government at the expense of losing territory to the Kurds in northern Syria,�� said Firas Abi-Ali, head of Middle East analysis for IHS. ��We see the group’s operational reach goes far beyond the territory it controls,�� he added. ��This is a continually expanding project, there is no limit to where they would stop.�� The IHS data from March to May showed IS was making a tactical decision not to launch offensives against Kurdish forces on the northern front, which could leave its forces vulnerable to air strikes.

��Neither the Kurds nor the Islamic State appear interested in changing that front line,�� said Richard Jackson, deputy head of political violence forecasting at IHS. ��That frees up IS fighters to push towards the capitals.�� The exception has been a key border crossing into Turkey, Tal Abyad, which the Kurds recaptured from IS this week. Tal Abyad was the main entry point for IS to bring in foreign fighters, weapons and supplies �X forcing the group to throw men and resources at trying to defend it.

But Jackson said that would be an exception, with IS forces continuing to press towards Syrian and Iraqi government strongholds. ��They’re not strong enough to take Damascus because the strong Sunni threat in that region is (al-Qaida affiliate) Jabhat Al-Nusra and Jaish Al-Islam, but they will push towards the Damascus-Homs road,�� cutting off the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad from his Alawite community’s coastal stronghold of Latakia.

��Damascus is important, but Latakia is their home,�� said Jackson. ��That frightens Assad supporters.��