By Tony Capaccio and David Lerman
U.S. and Arab warplanes struck small oil refineries in eastern Syria controlled by Islamic State to reduce the extremist Sunni group’s revenue and impede its mobility, the Pentagon said.
Thirteen strikes by the U.S., Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates used manned aircraft and drones to attack 12 “modular” refineries used by Islamic State in its oil-smuggling operations, U.S. Central Command said today in an e-mailed statement. Initial indications were that the strikes succeeded, the command said.
“These small-scale refineries provided fuel to run ISIL operations, money to finance their continued attacks throughout Iraq and Syria and an economic asset to support their future operations,” according to the statement, which used an acronym for the terrorist group’s former name.
Islamic State may be raising more than $2 million a day in revenue from oil sales in Iraq and Syria, paid either in cash or bartered goods, according to Luay al-Khatteeb, a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution’s Doha Center in Qatar.
While that’s not enough oil to affect world markets, illicit oil sales at discounted prices are a substantial source of revenue for Islamic State, along with income from extortion, ransom and taxes on the population in areas it controls.
The group, which declared an Islamic caliphate across a swath of northern Iraq and eastern Syria, controls seven oil fields and two refineries in northern Iraq, and six out of 10 oil fields in eastern Syria, al-Khatteeb said.
The latest round of airstrikes follows an opening offensive in Syria two nights ago that struck an Islamic State finance center, another sign of the U.S. and allied effort to undermine the extremist group’s funding.
“It’s smart to attack them in their pocketbook,” Senator Saxby Chambliss, a Georgia Republican who serves on the Senate intelligence committee, said today on CNN.
The new attack on oil refineries expands the target list of the multinational air offensive in Syria, which already has hit Islamic State training compounds, headquarters, command and control centers, storage facilities, supply trucks and armed vehicles, according to the Central Command.
Fighter jets, bombers, Tomahawk missiles and drones have been used to conduct 33 strikes across Syria to contain and weaken Islamic State, mostly near the group’s stronghold of Raqqa and along the Iraqi border.
‘Only the Beginning’
While the opening offensive this week employed almost as many bombs and missiles in Syria as were used in the first month of strikes against Islamic State in Iraq, the blitz of firepower is “only the beginning,” Rear Admiral John Kirby, the Pentagon’s top spokesman, said yesterday.
The targeting of Islamic State oil facilities is unlikely to have any impact on global oil prices.
Plentiful supplies have crude prices close to a two-year low. Brent crude for November settlement climbed 10 cents, or 0.1 percent, today to $96.95 a barrel on the London-based ICE Futures Europe exchange and has traded below $100 a barrel for more than two weeks.
“Most of the production in the regions controlled by Islamic State is already lost to the market,” said Richard Mallinson, an analyst at Energy Aspects Ltd. in London. “Syrian production was lost several years ago early in the civil war there, and Iraqi production in the north has been shut in or disrupted for several months now.”
An increase in global crude supplies that prompted the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries to consider cutting its production target is helping calm markets in the face of potential output disruptions, according to the International Energy Agency. Demand for oil is growing at its slowest rate since 2011, the Paris-based agency said in a monthly report on Sept. 11.
To contact the editors responsible for this story: John Walcott at [email protected] Larry Liebert