- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The U.S. military began dropping missiles on Islamic State-controlled oil facilities in eastern Syria on Wednesday, part of a strategic plan to dismantle the terrorist network’s ability to finance its jihadi operations.

U.S. fighter jets, drones and aircraft belonging to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates began pummeling modular oil refineries in Syria on Wednesday afternoon, a senior U.S. official told The Washington Times.

The oil refineries are “fairly small” in size but numerous, the official said. Destroying those refineries delivers a powerful blow to the Islamic State, according to the official.

“This attacks their ability to make money,” the official said. “This is their funding stream. This is their revenue stream, or a large part of it.”

U.S. Central Command said Wednesday that the three nations conducted 13 airstrikes against a dozen of the oil refineries. The U.S. military and its Arab partner nations launched and used precision-guided munitions to destroy the refineries, Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby told CNN on Wednesday.

For the first time during the airstrike operation, there were more Arab aircraft in the sky dropping missiles on the refineries than U.S. aircraft, he said.


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Pentagon officials expect to do a “battle damage assessment” of the airstrikes overnight, according to Rear Adm. Kirby. Hopefully, by Thursday morning, the U.S. military will have some idea of the impact the strikes have had on the Islamic State and its support system, he said.

“One of the things we really focused on was the infrastructure around the refineries itself. You know, their buildings and their communications equipment and the method of control over the refineries,” he said.

The U.S. official noted that details would not be immediately available on whether the strikes had injured or dead Islamic State fighters or Syrian citizens.

“We’re not able to tell if there were any enemy of civilian casualties,” the official said.

The strikes are the latest after an initial wave of more than 200 strikes on about two dozen targets, starting Monday night U.S. time. But President Obama has said the campaign against the Islamic State group, which has been going on for about a month inside Iraq, could last a long time, a warning his secretary of state repeated Wednesday.

“There’s definitely a second day and there’ll be a third and a fourth” in Syria, John F. Kerry told CNN. “This will go on for some time in several forms.”

Strikes earlier Wednesday were reportedly aimed at Islamic State vehicles and moving equipment in Syria on the other side of the Iraq border from Qaim. Activists in the nearby Syrian town of Boukamal told the Associated Press there were more than a dozen strikes Wednesday on Islamic State targets.

But the targeting of oil and gas facilities represents a new phase in the campaign. Islamic State militants seized Syrian oil refineries near the gas-rich city of Deir al-Zor in mid-2014. That seizure helped the group expand the stretch of land it controls, which currently extends from the middle of Iraq to northern Syria, according to the Syrian Network for Human Rights.

The group has been making more than $50 million a month from the oil revenues it reaps off the hundreds of Syrian refineries in its possession, according to Reuters. That money comes from deals that Islamic State militants have made with local traders, buyers and even businessmen who support Syrian President Bashar Assad, Reuters reported.

“Islamic State makes not less than $2 million daily that allows them to pay salaries and maintain their operations,” said a former Western oil executive who worked in a foreign oil firm operating in Syria before the crisis and who is familiar with the nascent oil market.

The group has been using that money to pay “administrators in the towns and cities they have captured and incorporated,” a U.S. official told NBC News. After all, “running a caliphate is not cheap,” the official said.

Not only has the group been selling oil from the refineries on the black market to fund its terror campaign, but it has also been using gas from those refineries to resupply its vehicles and heavy weaponry, such as tanks and armored vehicles captured from the regular Syrian and Iraqi armies they’ve been battling, according to the official

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