ISIL is doped up beyond repair in comparison
When fighters ingest drugs to meet religiously inspired goals, they are imbued with not only courage but also a sense of righteousness. For them, drug use is not immoral, but sacred because it helps an individual link the earthly with the divine. This clear divide between drug consumption to enable religious goals and recreational drug use for pleasure is evident with ISIL’s execution of casual drug users and addicts who live in territory under the group’s control.These problems are exacerbated by the already-loose nature of the command structure of many of these forces, and commanders often have little means to limit the amount and type of drugs that their fighters consume.
The drug of choice for ISIL members is an amphetamine known as Captagon. Invented in the 1960s, Captagon (also known as Fenethylline) was originally used to treat hyperactivity but it was later heavily restricted and became illegal in many countries after 1986 due to the side effects of emotional detachment and sleeplessness, side effects which its consumers in ISIL relish. A Lebanese Captagon manufacturer who supplies drugs for various groups fighting in Syria says that those who consume the drug “have a thirst for fighting and killing and will shoot at whatever they see. They lose any feeling or empathy for the people in front of them and can kill them without caring at all. They forget about their mother, father, and their families.”Drug use and drug trafficking are not new in the region where ISIL and other jihadist groups currently operate. In fact, the manufacturing base for Captagon — and its trafficking routes in the Bekaa Valley, northern Syria, and southern Turkey — existed long before the Syrian civil war and the emergence of ISIL. In 2014, ISIL captured a pharmaceutical plant in Aleppo that produced Captagon. The drug is cheap and easy to make. Many of its precursor chemicals come into Syria across the Lebanese and Turkish borders.
ISIL has been able to produce and distribute Captagon and other amphetamine-like drugs, and to control longstanding drug transit routes in the region, earning money for its cause and dispensing drugs to members of its ranks.
For ISIL, the encouragement of drug use in its ranks appears to go as far back as the days of the group’s predecessor, Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI). Numerous U.S. military commanders claimed to have fought drugged insurgent fighters from Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s group. Hideouts used by Zarqawi’s fighters were frequently found littered with drug paraphernalia. As with AQI, ISIL has supplemented its ranks with criminals and former prison inmates who have links to the drug trade. In addition, Syrian President Bashar Assad released many drug criminals who he hoped would fight for the regime, but ended up defecting to ISIL. The group’s membership is also filled with Sunni ex-convicts who were freed from prisons when ISIL captured Iraqi towns and cities.ISIL territory generates a rich atmosphere for its members to consume drugs. The group has undermined government institutions and civil society that would typically provide social constraints on drug abuse. As these constraints have been eroded, the setting and set that lead an individual to use drugs have intensified. An individual fighter is under more pressure to follow his peers and encourage a friend to use a drug when traditional constraints are removed and when an individual must demonstrate his bravery and honor.The consumption of drugs, therefore, aids in fostering small group cohesion as individuals experience and survive danger with their fellow comrades.In such an atmosphere, jihadist fighters are just as likely to be susceptible to common reactions to violence as members of professional militaries. They will experience symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder and many of them will self-medicate to cope with attacks and their commission of atrocities.Such unpredictable behavior will also likely be a factor in bringing conflicts with these groups to an end. Ceasefires, victories, and the possible decommissioning of these groups are required to set a foundation for greater political stability and personal security. However, as seen in other post-conflict environments involving drugged militants, creating the conditions for ceasefires and conflict resolution can be difficult due to the unpredictable behavior brought about by drug use and withdrawals.