Friday, November 20, 2015

Hoping to Hit ISIL Where It Hurts

"Paris will forever be seen as the touchstone that led to a ramped-up effort against ISIS. Its impact was devastating and the response has been aggressive and, personally, I would like to see it even more aggressive."
Richard Nephew, (former) U.S. State Department official on Iran sanctions file

"We have been fighting a war on drugs for decades, and there are still people doing drugs. To expect that anybody has a magic wand to stop [the oil revenue] -- it is hard. I would argue that it is hard but it needs to be done."
Jon Alterman, senior vice-president, Zbigniew Brzezinski chair, global security and geostrategy, Center for Strategic and International Studies

"We've stepped up our attack [and] focused our targeting on other oil facilities ..."
"The purpose of the strike was to help cripple ISIL’s oil distribution capabilities, which will reduce their ability to fund their military operations."
U.S. army Col Steve Warren
Kurdish forces overlook a burning oil well on November 10, 2015 near the ISIL-held town of Hole, Rojava, Syria.
John Moore/Getty Images   Kurdish forces overlook a burning oil well on November 10, 2015 near the ISIL-held town of Hole, Rojava, Syria.

Taking a page out of the Israel Defence Forces strategy to minimize civilian casualties as much as possible, the U.S. strike force dropped leaflets early this week to inform truck drivers to vacate the oil fields that furnish the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant with much of their working capital, before bombing takes place. Up until now -- and the ISIL attack in Paris changed this as much as it will other initiatives -- The military had held off on bombing vehicles that are used to transport oil for ISIS because of concerns that civilian drivers of the trucks could be killed.

That having been done, four A-10 Thunderbolt fighters and two AC-130 gunships were deployed targeting up to 300 trucks used for the transport of oil for Islamic State in the eastern Syrian city of Deir Ezzour, about 280 miles from Damascus, according to Col. Steve Warren, a U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad. About 115 of the 300 trucks were destroyed in the attack.

Damascus itself has been known to use the black market oil that benefits ISIL; the regime's focus has been on eliminating the threat it sees from Syrian Sunni rebels, not so much Islamic State.

ISIL's oil revenues from oil are substantial although figures are hard to come by. Aside from those oil revenues, ISIL took in a half-billion dollars when it overran Mosul last year and cleared out the central bank in Mosul. ISIL's trade in antiquities garners it handsome profits. It is also continuing to be funded by wealthy Saudis and other Sunni sources in the region. Media reports suggest that ISIL's oil revenues could be around $50 million monthly from production of 40,000 to 50,000 barrels daily.

"The crude is sold to middlemen at a heavy discount, and Turkey, Syria and Iran are reportedly final destinations for the contraband product", a report by RBC Capital Markets in September announced. As well, ISIS has made an effort to operate refineries for a larger plan to maintain essential services for locals, recruiting engineers to aid with that effort, according to the bank.

Western coalition forces had refrained from targeting ISIL-controlled oil facilities with the thought they would be retaken by Iraq.

The spectre of Kuwaiti oil wells that burned for years after they were torched by Saddam Hussein's retreating forces in 1991 and the environmental devastation that resulted has ensured that targeting of oil wells represents a hazard best avoided. The second alternative was to bomb the oil tankers in their hundreds that line up for miles awaiting the opportunity to transport the oil to the ready-and-waiting black market.

Coalition forces isolated Ramadi, Beiji and Sinjar from ISIL recently, and an oil refinery in Beiji has been returned to the Iraq Ministry of Oil.

A French airforce Rafale fighter jet. Twelve planes took part in the overnight strikes on the city of Raqqa in northeast Syria.
A French airforce Rafale fighter jet. Twelve planes took part in the overnight strikes on the city of Raqqa in northeast Syria. Photo: Reuters

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