WASHINGTON Dec 9 U.S.-led coalition planes
destroyed 168 Islamic State oil tanker trucks in Syria, the
coalition said on Friday, in the largest strike of its kind and
the latest instance of what U.S. officials say has been a
successful effort to starve the militant group of revenues.
The air strikes targeted the truck fleet near Palmyra, Syria
on Thursday, a coalition statement said. Their destruction means
lost revenues of about $2 million to Islamic State, the
estimated value of fuel in the trucks, the coalition said.
The strikes are part of a campaign by the U.S.-led coalition
to target oil infrastructure controlled by Islamic State, which
occupies swathes of territory in Syria and Iraq.
The group has been on the backfoot as an Iraqi military
campaign with U.S. coalition air support has succeeded in
wresting back significant territory, including a series of oil
U.S. officials have shifted from simply bombing oil fields
controlled by Islamic State to targeting energy infrastructure
along the production chain, from processing to storage to
transportation, Amos Hochstein, the State Department's energy
envoy, said in an interview on Friday.
"This is very easy oil to extract. You don't need to be a
genius to do it," he said. "But we're moving them from the 20th
century to the 17th, 18th century."
That has increased the cost to Islamic State of producing
each barrel of oil, and has lengthened the amount of time it
takes to get a barrel of oil to market, cutting into its profit
margins, he said.
Alongside taxes, ransoms and trading in antiquities, oil has
been a major fundraiser for Islamic State operations, with U.S.
defense officials estimating that it made about $47 million per
month from oil sales prior to October 2015.
The group is likely earning roughly a third of what it was
from oil sales before October 2015, Hochstein said.
U.S. officials have debated whether to destroy energy
infrastructure in Islamic State-controlled territory given
concerns it would be harder for local populations to recover
once the group leaves, Hochstein said.
But he argued that because the group itself sets fire to
fields when it is pushed out, and many of the fields will need
extensive repair anyway, bombing the infrastructure while it is
under the group's control will at least reduce its revenue.
"There is no oil infrastructure that survives a retreating
Da'esh," Hochstein said, using an Arabic acronym used by
opponents of the group. "So I feel, bomb the hell out of it
(Editing by Yara Bayoumy and Frances Kerry)