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How to topple Islamic State? 3 strengths that can be turned to weaknesses.

Iraqi Shi'ite fighters pose with an Islamic State flag which they pulled down on the front line in Jalawla, Diyala province, Nov. 23. Stringer/Reuters

The Islamic State has gained ground over wide swaths of Iraq and Syria and strengthened its hold on major cities in those areas through a combination of military organization, money, and social media savvy. 

These are powerful tools in a new era of warfare, but the groups' strengths also have the potential to be turned around by the Pentagon in a form of strategic jiu-jitsu.

Here are the top three strengths of Islamic State fighters – and how these strengths could be used against them:

1. The Islamic State knows how to bring in the money – and how to use it

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    Treasury Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David Cohen talks about actions the Treasury Department is taking to combat financing for the Islamic State group during the daily press briefing at the White House in Washington, Oct. 23. The Treasury Department says Islamic State militants are amassing wealth at an unprecedented pace, earning about $1 million a day from black market oil sales alone.
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The organization has shown “an ability to consistently acquire substantial revenue in order to efficiently fund effective governance,” warns a new Brookings Institution report, “Profiling the Islamic State,” which estimates the group's net worth at “close to $2 billion.” 

The Islamic State is also “impressively managed” and “almost obsessively bureaucratic,” adds the report, written by Charles Lister, who is based in Doha, Qatar. He points out that the group knows the value, too, of providing “administrative and social services to civilians” in areas under its control. 

This obsessive bureaucratic control also raises expectations, too. With this in mind, the Pentagon needs to target the transportation infrastructure used to bring oil to customers, which would have the additional benefit of cutting off key nodes of the militants' communication, as well as command and control, and upending the high expectations of service that many under Islamic State rule now have.

This bureaucratic control can quickly become oppressive as well, and the Pentagon’s psychological operations nodes would do well to exploit these actions such as, for example, the widely unpopular Islamic State ban on birth control for the women of Mosul, one of Iraq’s largest cities.

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