One year ago, most Americans viewed al-Qaeda as the most formidable terrorist organization in the world.
Yet, the rapid ascent of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS or IS) over the course of 2014 has challenged these assumptions. The notorious jihadist group has shocked, terrified and enraged much of the world with its barbaric and gruesome tactics.
At present, ISIS is continuing its murderous rampage and controls a large portion of territory across Iraq and Syria. Over the past several months, the United States and its allies having been pounding ISIS with continuous airstrikes.
This effort has slowed its advance, but ISIS still poses a significant threat to the surrounding region.
One of the most active and fierce fighting forces that stands in the way of ISIS is the People's Protection Units (YPG), a Kurdish militia group. During a recent battle in the Syrian city of Kobane, the YPG killed ISIS leader Emir Abu Zahra.
VICE visited the Kurdish fighters involved and obtained exclusive video footage of the items found in the home where Zahra was staying.
Among these items were an expensive Dell laptop with a ballistic armor protection system, a traditional Middle Eastern dagger and a giant bag of cocaine. Indeed, it appears that Zahra was not only using this cocaine, he was giving it to his fighters.
If this is true, it contradicts many of the fundamentalist Islamic beliefs that ISIS professes. It is illegal to consume drugs, alcohol and other substances under sharia law.
Accordingly, ISIS has attempted to present an image of abstinence. At one point, the terrorist organization even released a propaganda video in which it burns down a marijuana farm.
In spite of this, Kurdish fighters have reported finding dead ISIS fighters with syringes in their bags, and capsules and vials in their mouths. Likewise, as Joakim Medin notes for VICE:
There have been persistent rumors and accusations of drug use in the ranks of Islamic State fighters. Leaders in the group have been said to drug their militants to give them greater courage as they go into battle. With the finding of what seems to be Abu Zahra's cocaine in Kobane, this could be the first confirmed and concrete evidence of drug use among IS fighters — and of a double standard of men who preach fundamentalism, yet are getting high as they commit massacres.
Simply put, in addition to being genocidal and bloodthirsty, it appears that ISIS is also hypocritical.
With that said, do cocaine and other substances help explain the rapid rise of ISIS? After all, ISIS is hardly the first group in history to use drugs to fuel its soldiers during battle. In fact, it appears that ISIS is following in the footsteps of one of the most sinister fighting forces in history, the Nazis.
The Nazis Gave Their Soldiers Meth During WWII
At the beginning of World War II, the Nazis spread across a vast territory within a very short period of time. This has often been attributed to a military tactic known as "blitzkrieg," or lightning war.
As Encyclopedia Brittanica notes, blitzkrieg is a "military tactic calculated to create psychological shock and resultant disorganization in enemy forces through the employment of surprise, speed, and superiority in matériel or firepower."
ISIS offers an interesting parallel to Nazi Germany in this regard. It has arguably fought in a similar style, attacking enemies with rapid speed, and utilizing shock and surprise to its advantage.
This was exhibited, in particular, when ISIS stormed the city of Mosul and Iraqi soldiers dropped their weapons and fled from their posts.
In addition to fighting styles, it also appears that the Nazis and ISIS share another similarity: the use of drugs in battle.
Nazi soldiers reportedly used a form of methamphetamine (crystal meth) to fight off fatigue during WWII. The drug they used was called Pervitin, and it was labeled as an "alertness aid to maintain wakefulness."
This was all revealed in letters written by the Nobel Prize-winning German author Heinrich Böll while he was a soldier during WWII. Böll wrote home and requested for more Pervitin to be sent to him.
As Fabienne Hurst highlights for Der Spiegel:
In 1938, high-ranking army physiologist Otto Ranke saw in it [Pervitin] a true miracle drug that could keep tired pilots alert and an entire army euphoric. It was the ideal war drug. In September 1939, Ranke tested the drug on university students, who were suddenly capable of impressive productivity despite being short on sleep. From that point on, the Wehrmacht, Germany's World War II army, distributed millions of the tablets to soldiers on the front, who soon dubbed the stimulant "Panzerschokolade" ("tank chocolate"). British newspapers reported that German soldiers were using a "miracle pill."
What's more, it wasn't only the Nazi soldiers that were fueled by speed, but also their infamous leader. According to reports, Adolf Hitler was a meth addict, and took a number of other substances, including barbiturate tranquilizers, morphine and bulls' semen.
The use of drugs by Nazi soldiers might have aided their battle efforts in the beginning, but the negative consequences of substance abuse eventually took their toll. Many soldiers became addicted to the drugs, which caused sweating, dizziness, depression and hallucinations.
Some soldiers had heart attacks or shot themselves during these phases. While there are many factors that led to the ultimate defeat of the Nazis, one might argue that the use of drugs certainly didn't help in the long run.
Perhaps the same will be true for ISIS, if the reports surrounding its widespread use of cocaine and other substances are indeed true. Correspondingly, there are reports that while ISIS' use of drugs have sometimes aided its efforts in battle, it's also led to reckless and ineffective suicide attacks.
Hence, like it was for the Nazis, we can only hope that the sinister ambitions and unsustainable tactics of ISIS will be the catalyst of its demise.
Citations: US Foreign Policy Key Data Points from Pew Research (Pew Research Center ), Areas Under ISIS Control (The New York Times ), How Islamic State Wages War (Businessweek ), Exclusive Video Shows Cocaine Allegedly Found at Home of Islamic State Leader (VICE NEWS), Battle for Iraq and Syria in maps (BBC News), Nazis Took Meth Pills To Stay Alert Boost Endurance During World War II Letters Reveal (Huffington Post), WWII Drug The German Granddaddy of Crystal Meth (Der Spiegel ), High Hitler Nazi leader was a meth addict says new documentary (The Washington Post), Blitzkrieg (Encyclopedia Britannica ), Sunni Militants Drive Iraqi Army Out of Mosul (The New York Times), Isis burn down marijuana farm in Syria (The Guardian )