According to the White House, the US-led coalition went 12 for 12 in the latest round of airstrikes, which aimed at the collective wallet of ISIS. Twelve oil installations in eastern Syria came under fire as the coalition attempted to cut off the terrorist army’s income from black-market sales. Video taken on the ground and posted to social media showed the immediate aftermath of the attacks, and the coalition believes all twelve sites are now out of commission:
The latest strikes came on the third day of a U.S.-led air campaign aimed at rolling back ISIS in Syria, and as CBS News’ David Martin reports, they didn’t target ISIS militants and weapons as the attacks earlier in the week, but infrastructure used by the militant group to rake in money.
Martin says 12 small-scale oil refineries were hit in the eastern desert of Syria. 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.
The strikes were carried out by the U.S. Air Force and by aircraft from the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. Arab jets hit seven of the refineries and American aircraft the other five, says Martin, and a total of 18 aircraft took part. All of them returned safely to their bases. Along the way, one of the jets spotted an ISIS vehicle and attacked it as well.
These targets have both strategic and tactical value. Even if the global markets succeeded in blocking black-market sales of ISIS oil (which would probably be impossible), their forces could still use it for their own purposes at minimal cost. Taking the facilities out with air strikes solves both the strategic and tactical problems that ISIS creates with their control of oil facilities, both in Syria and Iraq. However, the same strategy probably won’t get applied in Iraq, since the Iraqis will need those facilities if and when they recover that ground from ISIS. In Syria, destroying the facilities only has a downside to the Assad regime, about which the US-led coalition could care less.
The airstrikes didn’t only focus on the oil facilities, though. They also tried to provide some relief for the beleaguered town of Kobane, which ISIS forces have been trying to sack:
Eight Islamic State vehicles were hit in an airstrike northwest of the border town of al-Qaim, U.S. Central Command said. Syrian opposition activists said the coalition strikes occurred near Boukamal, where the Islamic State drove out other rebels in July after seizing the al-Qaim border crossing. Islamic State bases and checkpoints were also targeted later in the day, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
The organization also said several aerial attacks were carried out near Kobane, a town on the border with Turkey that has been the site of intense battles in recent weeks between Islamic State fighters and militias from Syria’s Kurdish region. It was unclear who carried out those reported airstrikes. U.S. military officials did not report launching attacks in the area near the Turkish border.
Moustafa Oniedi, a Kurdish activist in Marj Ismael, about two miles from Kobane, said that there were strikes south of Kobane but that they did not hit active fronts with Islamic State militants. Still, in an area where the radical fighters’ offensive has displaced tens of thousands of people, the intervention was met with enthusiasm.
“The strikes triggered a lot of joy,” Oniedi said. “People were clapping, chanting and dancing in celebration because the Americans are hitting the region and they believe that the U.S. came to their rescue.”
CNN reports that the strikes are having a noticeable and public impact on ISIS, even in their “capital” of Raqqa:
An activist from Raqqa, who uses the pseudonym Maher al-Ahmad, told CNN he’d gone back to the town after the airstrikes.
“It’s the first time I didn’t see ISIS in the streets, that I was able to walk around, because I am wanted by them,” said al-Ahmad, who moves between Raqqa and Turkey’s Gaziantep province.
He said people who were there during the strikes described them as feeling like earthquakes.
Some 20 to 25 vehicles filled with ISIS fighters, including people he believes were senior leadership because of the level of security around them, left the city within hours of the attacks, the activist said.
That’s no surprise, but it does underscore the disruption the attacks have created in their command and control functions. At some point, though, ISIS will act to harden those capabilities from air attacks. The only way to permanently dismantle them is to deny ISIS any ground on which to regroup and adapt to the air campaign. That still seems a long way off, even with the Saudis volunteering their services in that regard.