Hitting ISIS where it hurts
BAKU - In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on Paris and amid promises from the terror group of more strikes to follow, Western powers, as well as Russia and China, have agreed to step up efforts to eradicate the threat of the Islamic State (ISIS), the group that claimed responsibility for the attacks.
Yet most countries are reluctant to deploy ground troops against ISIS and continue to attack militant targets only from the air. For now, at least, the Russians who are present in Syria have limited their actions to air strikes and cruise missiles fired from vessels in the Caspian and Mediterranean seas.
The United States is undertaking a more aggressive approach by targeting ISIS where it is going to hurt the most: trying to stop its lucrative oil sales, which bring in about $40 million a month, according to Reuters. ISIS’s oil production and exportation expanded as its territory grew. Much of the exporting is done on the black market through Turkey using tanker trucks. The United States is now targeting those trucks.
ISIS uses existing oil infrastructure under its control as the militants conquer new territory. The group has kept on many of the technicians and workers in the oil industry. There are rumours that some Syrian oil has been sold back to the Syrian government.
Depriving ISIS of its revenues, particularly oil revenues, will certainly go a long way to hurting the militants’ ability to pay its troops and finance a war it has declared on practically the entire world.
True, ISIS has other sources of revenue, such as theft of cattle, selling Western passports that belong to the fighters who joined ISIS from Europe and North America; holding hostages for ransom and levying of taxes from residents in the area they control.
The militants are also accused of human trafficking and, according to a CNN report, the trade in human organs.
Reports from Western sources say the Pentagon is focused on oil and oil products, including trucks used to transport such goods. Despite the current low price of oil, ISIS still undercuts established producers, allowing it to easily find outlets for its stolen oil.
The US military said it had destroyed 283 tanker trucks used to transport oil from fields controlled by ISIS in eastern Syria in air strikes conducted by four A-10 attack planes and two AC-130 gunships on November 21st. The attacks followed similar air strikes on November 15th that destroyed 116 tanker trucks. The US military had previously refrained from attacking oil tanker trucks for fear of causing civilian casualties, but had dropped leaflets an hour before the November 15th strikes warning of an impending attack.
The depreciating price of oil has helped the United States in this long fight against the terrorist group, which is forced to sell below market rates.
Normally ISIS would increase production to make up for any deficit. But to extract more oil, the militants would have to make major investments in infrastructure. And in view of the current political situation, with the entire world community standing against ISIS, it is uncertain the terrorist organisation will even be around this time next year.
One can imagine how difficult counterterrorism operations would be if a barrel of oil was $100-$110 but a large number of financial institutions see prices of $50-$60 for a barrel of Brent and $50-$52 the Barrel for West Texas Intermediate in 2016.
For the moment the United States is trying to avoid destroying oil installations, such as the wells and the refineries, keeping in mind that once the war is over Syria will need its oil revenue to help rebuild.