More US air attacks on Islamic State oil fields planned

Rethink of Syria strategy targets IS’s lucrative financial oil enterprises

US defence secretary Ashton Carter and Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Gen Joseph Dunford testify before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Capitol Hill about the US military strategy in the Middle East. Photograph: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

US defence secretary Ashton Carter and Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Gen Joseph Dunford testify before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Capitol Hill about the US military strategy in the Middle East. Photograph: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

 

The Pentagon plans to step up air strikes against Islamic State-controlled oil facilities in Syria as the US seeks to revamp its flagging military strategy against the jihadi group.

Gen Joseph Dunford, the new chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, said yesterday the US would be “more aggressive” with air strikes aimed at destroying the oil enterprise operated by IS.

The Pentagon was also likely to conduct more raids against IS positions in Syria and was looking again at the idea of placing some US forces closer to the front lines of fighting, particularly in Iraq.

“We won’t hold back from . . . conducting missions directly, whether by strikes from the air or direct action on the ground,” defence secretary Ashton Carter told a Senate hearing.

The Obama administration is under heavy pressure to expand its military campaign against Islamic State, especially in Syria, following the intervention of Russia directly into the conflict and the failure of its own programme to train moderate rebels to take on the Assad regime.

US officials also acknowledge that Islamic State continues to generate substantial revenue from selling oil, frustrating efforts by the US-led international coalition to hamper the group’s financial foundations.

When the US campaign against IS began in Syria just over a year ago, many of the initial air strikes focused on oil infrastructure operated by IS. At the time US officials expressed optimism that the group’s oil revenues had been substantially reduced.

However a senior administration official acknowledged that even after the initial air strikes, IS is still making about $500 million a year from its oil operations. “They are generating an awful lot of money internally,” the official said. “Oil is still a very lucrative business for them.”

US military officials said last week that air strikes had attacked IS operations in the al- Omar oilfield in eastern Syria, which is at the heart of the oil enterprise operated by the group. “We must be more aggressive in strikes that will deny Isis the access they have to oil revenue,” Gen Dunford said yesterday.

Mr Carter said the attacks on oil facilities would be part of an intensified air campaign against IS in Syria that would include air strikes against the group’s senior members.

The US would also increase support to rebel groups that are in a position to put pressure on Raqqa, IS’s self-declared capital in Syria.

“If done in concert as we intend, all these actions on the ground and from the air should help shrink IS territory into a smaller and smaller area,” he said.

However, Mr Carter added that the Pentagon was not proposing the to establishment of no-fly or safe zones within Syria.

Gen Dunford said he might recommend that US forces operate beside Iraqi troops on the front line in certain circumstances, but that no such decision had yet been taken. Over the past year, the Pentagon has said efforts by the Iraqi military to retake cities from Isis would require a more direct participation of US forces. – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2015