IDLIB, Syria – The remaining Islamic State senior leaders are looking inward to address reports of toxic organizational culture following news that their leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, killed himself this weekend.
“His death was tragic but preventable. This is a perfect example of our lack of resiliency,” said one senior ISIS leader. “He was a product of the 'move-up or blow-up' system that often forces our fighters into roles for which they are not prepared. It’s completely toxic. The first time some special operations unit comes knocking on their door, they go to pieces. Figuratively, of course."
"And literally now, I suppose.”
While reports of toxic organizational culture are a revelation to senior ISIS leaders, junior fighters and mid-level militants are not surprised.
“I am treated like a cur and I don’t feel like my talents are being managed,” said one militant, who wished to remain anonymous for fear of reprisal. “I have a 'raping and pillaging' background but all they want me to do is plant IEDs. When I try to bring it up to my chain of command, I get marginalized.”
The Islamic State’s new leader, Abdullah Qardash, says he is taking a holistic approach to overhauling ISIS, from managing internal complaints to managing talent.
“We are hemorrhaging talent,” Qardash told reporters. “And we’re turning over leaders almost as fast as they do in the Pentagon. This is a new generation of jihadis. If we don’t treat them with respect and recognize their additional skills, they will wage jihad for someone else.”
The Islamic State has suffered multiple setbacks over the past few years, including losing territory in both Iraq and Syria, continuous targeting of its top officials, and an epidemic of goat herpes following block leave earlier this year. In an effort to rebrand itself and attract more fighters, ISIS senior leadership has published a “National Jihadis Strategy,” formally giving priority to militants and their enslaved child brides in addition to readiness and lethality.