Islamic State: US-led airstrikes target oil assets in Syria

Warplanes and drones from the US and two Gulf Arab allies pounded militant sites in Syria, seeking to degrade oil refining and smuggling operations. Islamic State is estimated to control oil refineries generating steady income. 

Staff Sgt. Shawn Nickel, US Air Force/AP
In this Tuesday, Sept. 23, 2014 photo released by the US Air Force, a formation of US Navy F-18E Super Hornets leaves after receiving fuel from a KC-135 Stratotanker over northern Iraq as part of US-led coalition airstrikes on the Islamic State group and other targets in Syria. US-led airstrikes targeted Syrian oil installations held by the militant Islamic State group overnight and early Thursday, Sept. 25, 2014, killing nearly 20 people as the militants released dozens of detainees in their de facto capital, fearing further raids, activists said.

US-led jet fighters launched new airstrikes overnight, targeting Syrian oilfields under the control of the self-declared Islamic State, in an effort to degrade the group's financial assets.

The Pentagon said in a statement that US planes and drones, alongside Saudi and United Arab Emirates forces, hit about a dozen oil refineries in eastern Syria that were estimated to earn about $2 million per day for IS, the Los Angeles Times reports. The US Treasury has designated several IS-connected individuals and one charity as terrorists, in a coordinated effort to cut off IS's financial supply lines.

“We are still assessing the outcome of the attack on the refineries, but have initial indications that the strikes were successful,” U.S. Central Command said in a statement. “These small-scale refineries provided fuel to run ISIL operations, money to finance their continued attacks … and an economic asset to support their future operations.”

The statement said the facilities produced 300 to 500 barrels of refined petroleum per day. Experts say the Islamic State relies on oil smuggling as a key source of revenue for its military operations. The group also raises money from robberies, ransoms, extortion and taxing local communities.

Retired US Army Col. Peter Mansoor warned that throttling IS's finances would be a long, difficult project, and that airstrikes were only a part of the effort. "Even if we stop their oil flow today, they still have about a billion dollars in the bank," he told CNN.

"They seized about a third of a billion dollars from the central bank of Mosul (Iraq)." On top of that, Mansoor said, ISIS has garnered millions of dollars in ransoms from European governments for hostages and have traded much of their oil." ...

"So it's unlikely these airstrikes have crippled ISIS. As the President has said, it's going to be a long campaign, and it will be months -- perhaps years -- before ISIS is dealt a serious blow absent any sort of ground force to go in and root them out on the ground.

In July, the Financial Times challenged the claim, which Mansoor repeated, that IS had looted hundreds of millions of dollars in cash from banks in Mosul. It cited Iraqi bankers as saying that the robberies never happened and money was still in vaults. 

Reuters reports that according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a London-based watchdog organization, the oilfield airstrikes killed 14 IS fighters and five civilians.

According to the Observatory, airstrikes were also launched Wednesday night against IS forces in northern Syria, near the border with Turkey. Rami Abdulrahman, who runs the Observatory, told Reuters that the strikes took place about 20 miles west of Kobane, which has been under siege by IS forces. Reuters couldn't independently confirm the strikes, and the aircraft's country of origin is unknown, though Mr. Abdulrahman says they came from the direction of Turkey and did not appear to be Syrian Air Force.

The Christian Science Monitor reports that fighting in northern Syria between Kurdish forces and IS militants has driven tens of thousands of Syrian refugees into Turkey. “This number of people in such a short period of time is the highest we have seen” in Turkey, a spokeswoman for the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees told the Monitor.

More than 140,000 people fled Syria in the past few days. In a poignant reminder of the uneven burden Turkey shoulders as a result of the war next door, that number matches Europe’s total refugee intake since April 2011. Before this influx, Turkey already counted 1.5 million refugees, a tally that includes unregistered individuals.

The Turkish government, assisted by international and local aid agencies, is racing against the clock to provide for this rapidly swelling population. Its border policy is a delicate balancing act. On the one hand, the lives of many depend on ease of entry. On the other, the government is under huge pressure to tighten its border to stymie IS.

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