This week, coalition forces took the fight against ISIS to Syria where the Islamic State not only maintains most of its command and control infrastructure but also its petroleum-based sources of revenue. Ed Morrissey has the details on coalition strikes which for the first time targeted mobile petroleum refineries under ISIS control.
“[CBS News reporter David] Martin says 12 small-scale oil refineries were hit in the eastern desert of Syria,” a CBS report revealed. “According to the Pentagon, the refineries produced between 300 and 500 barrels of petroleum a day, which ISIS used to power its own vehicles and to sell on the black market, bringing in up to $2 million every day in revenue.”
So, one would expect that revenue stream to have been vitiated if not entirely destroyed, right? Not so fast.
“Officials said the strikes wouldn’t target fixed oil fields, a precaution intended to minimize the potential for environmental damage,” The Wall Street Journal reported on Wednesday. “The U.S. instead targeted small capacity mobile refineries used by Islamic State around northeastern Raqqa province and other locations in eastern Syria, officials said.”
The modular refineries produce between 300 and 500 barrels of refined oil a day, the defense department said in a statement. The military said that initial indications were that the strikes were successful. The make-shift refineries are located near the towns of Al-Mayadeen and Albukamal in the eastern oil-rich province of Deir Ezzour and in adjacent al-Hasakah province, the Defense Department said.
Islamic State uses the mobile refineries to process oil from the Syrian fields into diesel fuel. The diesel fuel is then smuggled across the border into Turkey.
The ability of Islamic State militants to finance their operation not from donations but through oil has made them a particularly dangerous group, U.S. officials have said. In the first round of U.S. and allied attacks, targets included a building used by the group to control its finances, an early signal that the U.S. strategy to curb the group’s power is to go after its funding.
The report seems to confirm what many have speculated; that the initial strikes on ISIS targets in Syria will be aimed primarily at degrading rather than destroying Islamic State infrastructure.
From a strategic perspective, the decision to leave ISIS oil fields intact makes little sense. A devil’s advocate perspective, however, would concede that it would not be wise to repeat of the devastation that was wrought in 1991 when Saddam Hussein set Kuwaiti oil fields alight. The environmental damage done by the Iraqi military’s maneuver was significant, and the move did reduce the efficacy of coalition operations.
The Pentagon seems eager to disabuse the press of the notion that they are conducting an environmentalist war. In a press conference on Thursday, a Pentagon spokesman suggested that the coalition forces were seeking to leave some revenue sources intact for the post-Assad regime:
US, Saudis & UAE, Kirby says, trying to blow up ISIS-held oil refineries w/o destroying a potential future $ source for post-Assad Syria
— Spencer Ackerman (@attackerman) September 25, 2014
A green war does, however, seem like a contradiction. At the very least, it is a utopian and likely unattainable goal. While we cannot be sure what the long-term effect of striking ISIS oil fields would be on the environment, we can be positive that not striking them will prolong America’s engagement in Iraq and Syria.