After Paris attacks, air campaign escalates against ISIS oil assets

The Wall Street Journal reports: The Obama administration accused the Syrian government last week of purchasing oil from Islamic State and froze the U.S. assets of a Syrian businessman for allegedly facilitating these transactions.

An air raid by French warplanes on Oct. 23 in the eastern Syrian province of Deir Ezzour severely damaged the Omar field, which supplied most of the extremist group’s oil and was once partly operated by Royal Dutch Shell PLC.

Before the raid, up to 2,000 trucks were lined up at any one time at the installation, but that number has fallen to 200, a Western counterterrorism official said.

After the Nov. 13 terror attacks in the French capital, airstrikes against Islamic State’s oil assets intensified as part of Operation Tidal Wave II, named after the World War II military campaign against Nazi oil assets.

The coalition said five days later it had destroyed 116 tanker trucks near Albu Kamal. On Nov. 23, it said it carried out airstrikes near the cities of Deir Ezzour and Hasakah, smashing 283 tanker trucks that were used by Islamic State to transport oil out of eastern Syria.

“We know that two-thirds of their oil comes from the oil fields we struck” in Deir Ezzour province, Col. Steve Warren, the coalition spokesman, said from Baghdad. “We need to take this away from them so that their operations are more difficult to conduct.”

A raid in Syria in May that killed Islamic State’s finance chief Abu Sayyaf yielded what U.S. officials have described as a trove of material about its operations.

A Western counterterrorism official said the confiscated archive included computer files showing the group’s oil production peaking at 55,000 barrels a day in the months after a wave of airstrikes in October 2014, with sales of up to $46 million a month.

The focus on cutting that stream has emerged as a rare point of agreement between the U.S. and Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose support for Mr. Assad has drawn criticism from the West.

Russian bombers destroyed some 500 oil trucks doing business with Islamic State on Nov. 21 and 22, according to the Russian Defense Ministry. Col. Warren expressed skepticism about the figure, saying the U.S. had seen no evidence the Russians had enough aircraft in theater to bomb such a large number of trucks during that period. [Continue reading…]

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