U.S., Arab allies try to sap ISIS by pummeling oil refineries
By Holly Yan, Chelsea J. Carter and Mohammed Tawfeeq, CNN
The latest wave of U.S.-led airstrikes aimed at choking off ISIS’ revenue killed at least 14 militants and five civilians in Syria, a monitoring group said.
Among the targets hit were an ISIS headquarters in Deir Ezzor province, a training camp and several oil refineries, according to the dissident group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
The U.S. military has not released details of the damage caused by the latest round of airstrikes.
But the Pentagon said these coalition attacks focused on pummeling mobile oil refineries used to fund the terror group.
ISIS makes up to $2 million a day from the oil produced by the mobile refineries, Pentagon spokesman Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby said.
Kirby vowed that more U.S. attacks will come.
But military experts say airstrikes alone won’t drain ISIS’ money.
“Even if we stop their oil flow today, they still have about a billion dollars in the bank,” retired U.S. Army Col. Peter Mansoor said.
“They seized about a third of a billion dollars from the central bank of Mosul (Iraq).” On top of that, Mansoor said, ISIS has garnered millions of dollars in ransoms from European governments for hostages and have traded much of their oil.
And more challenges loom.
ISIS has likely dispersed much of their command-and-control capabilities and leaders and are now “mixed in with the civilian population,” Mansoor said.
“So it’s unlikely these airstrikes have crippled ISIS. As the President has said, it’s going to be a long campaign, and it will be months — perhaps years — before ISIS is dealt a serious blow absent any sort of ground force to go in and root them out on the ground.
What’s been hit?
So far, officials have confirmed 198 strikes against ISIS targets in Iraq and 33 strikes against ISIS in Syria.
In the latest round Wednesday targeting the refineries in Syria, fighter jets from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates flew alongside U.S. aircraft, hitting 12 locations, Kirby said.
The U.S. military was still assessing the outcome, but Kirby said “we are very confident we hit what we were aiming at, and we caused the damage we wanted.”
While ISIS has been the focus of most of the strikes in Syria, other terror targets have also been hit.
The U.S. military said the al Qaeda-linked Khorasan Group was also targeted when the strikes in Syria began Tuesday morning.
And the terror group al-Nusra Front says its leader, Abu Yousef al-Turki — also known as “The Turk” — was killed. But the United States has not said whether he was killed.
The U.S. “cannot confirm any leadership killed in any strikes,” Kirby said Wednesday. He said the number militant casualties was not immediately known, either. He said the goal “was to get at capabilities of equipping and financing.”
While the U.S.-led military action in Syria hasn’t been widely embraced, those involved in the international coalition in Iraq is growing.
The Dutch foreign ministry announced Wednesday that its military will contribute six F-16 fighter jets and 250 troops to carry out airstrikes and train Iraqi and Kurdish forces. Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders said his country’s parliament will weigh a request for six of its fighter jets to take part in the bombing campaign.
Similarly, British Prime Minister David Cameron said he’s recalling Parliament Friday “to secure approval for the United Kingdom to participate in the Iraq air campaign.
“The U.N. Security Council has now received a clear request from the Iraqi government to support it in its military action against ISIL,” Cameron said from U.N. headquarters in New York. “… So it is right that Britain should move to a new phase of action.”
Activist: ISIS fighters keep low profile
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.
ISIS fighters began moving into the homes of civilians in the past two to three weeks, al-Ahmad said, raising fears that the civilians may be used as human shields or fall victim to future airstrikes.
Hassan al-Halabi, an activist from Aleppo, voiced similar fears, saying residents there have two main concerns about upcoming strikes in Syria.
“The first is that they are afraid of having civilian casualties because ISIS members and fighters are among civilians,” al-Halabi said.
“And the second concern is that what will happen after that? Who will replace ISIS, especially that the regime is ready to take control of ISIS’ areas?”
CNN’s Barbara Starr, Gul Tuysuz, Greg Botelho, Jim Sciutto, Wolf Blitzer, Arwa Damon, Pamela Brown and Hamdi Alkhshali contributed to this report.