ISIL/ Daesh can be Starved of Oil Revenue: Here’s How

By David Stupples | (The Conversation) | – –

The high costs of running the Islamic State’s “caliphate” and fighting a ground war are largely met from selling oil, supplemented with donations and money extorted from Christians and hostages. Preventing the jihadists from profiting from oilfields under its control should be a priority for the military coalition – indeed, Britain’s first strikes in Syria were against oilfields.

But the coalition already has the capacity to stop the illegal oil trade. High above Syria and Iraq, beyond the range of any IS missiles, are US and UK surveillance and strike drones such as the Predator and Reaper. These can operate for up to 24 hours, equipped with excellent sensors including synthetic aperture radar – sideways-looking radar that uses the flight path of the aircraft to electronically simulate an extremely large antenna. This continuously generates extremely high-resolution imagery even through cloud and sandstorms.

An example of the detail possible from SAR images.

These are the weapons with which to cut off IS’s oil trade income, estimated at US$50m a month (US$600m a year). While looted banks and military bases provided IS with a reported war chest of US$1.5-$2 billion, this oil income is vital to pay the salaries of its administrators and fighters, around US$500m a year, buy black market weaponry estimated at US$1 billion, and other essentials that bring annual costs to around US$2 billion.

Using surveillance aircraft/drones alongside attack drones, crude oil movement can be stopped. In parallel, bankers should be persuaded to block anonymous donation funding through the financial networks.

IS is shipping around 25,000 barrels of crude oil a day to Turkey by road tanker, sold on the black market for as little as US$25 a barrel – then a quarter of market price. Now it sells to rogue traders in organised operations within Iraq and Syria.

Why is cutting off the oil trade supporting IS not being addressed more enthusiastically? Russian strikes have inflicted damage on the tanker fleets, but of 10,600 coalition strikes, only 196 have targeted oil infrastructure. With better use of airborne surveillance it would be easier to identify and destroy the tankers used to move illicit crude oil, cutting off this vital source of income and hastening an end to the conflict.

Stopping the flow of oil

Major IS-controlled oil wells lie between al-Qaim in Iraq in northern Iraq and Deir Ezzor in Syria, 100km southeast of Raqqa. IS uses mobile refineries to process crude oil required for military and domestic use, but also transports crude oil by road through IS held routes, via Aleppo and a northern corridor through “friendly” rebel-held areas, to southern Turkey.

There is oil trading within rebel-held areas, and Russia has also identified (as yet unconfirmed) that crude oil is also being transported from Deir al-Zour (aka Deir Ezzor) to Batman in Turkey. Russia was conducting air strikes in the rebel-held region through which the oil is transported when one of its Su-24 aircraft was shot down by a Turkish fighter.

A large road tanker can transport around 300 barrels, so carrying 25,000 barrels a day requires a minimum of 84 tanker trucks, assuming the round trip can be achieved in a single day. The round trip is approximately 600km, so the tankers could be spaced every 8km – any less and the convoys would be too dangerous. To target an individual truck in transit with guided missiles from manned aircraft would prove very expensive – more than the value of the tanker and the oil carried. But coalition drone pilots can patrol the routes used by the oil tankers continuously, calling in strikes from other aircraft or attacking where necessary.

Targeting the oil before it reaches the trading centres hidden in rebel-held territory would starve IS of the funds it relies upon. As Russian president Putin noted, severing IS’s support is the most effective way of shortening the conflict.

IS has learned from the North Vietnamese in its fight against the US, holding large areas of territory with small groups of troops who live among the civilian population – not in barracks and frontline positions. The approaches of conventional warfare will be difficult – this conflict demands smart thinking.

The Conversation

David Stupples, Professor of Electrical and Electronic Engineering and Director of Electronic Warfare Research, City University London

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


Related video added by Juan Cole:

RT: “Oil on Fire: Russian jets destroy ISIS refineries, trucks and wells”

11 Responses

  1. The USA has all the tools it needs to completely stop ISIS oil trade, BUT . . .

    To use them would require the USA to close the Turkish border and severely whack the Turkish government which is fully complicit in ISIS oil trade and in supporting ISIS with weapons and allowing safe transit of ISIS fighters from to/from the west and ISIS held territory.

    In addition the USA would need to target Saudi Arabian oil brokers and bankers that facilitate the wealth of ISIS with drone strikes. This would anger the Saudi King, but it is his own family that needs to be killed to cripple ISIS.

    The “bad guys” in this fight are ISIS, Turkey and Saudi Arabia, not Assad, Syria, Iraq and Iran. Sure Assad is a terrible ruler, but he is no worse than many other leaders around the globe that the USA happily supports. For example, the King of Saudi Arabia and the President of Turkey regularly kill their own citizens with hardly a peep from the USA.

    Once again the USA has picked the wrong side of history because the USA does not want to “offend” its current “friends.”

    Russia and China (currently not in the ME) have no problem dealing with problems in a straight forward manner and throwing “friends” to the wolves if the “friend” is causing problems for Russia and/or China.

    • Saved me having to say anything except, interesting to read support for drone warfare on this page.
      Turkey finds the border impossible to close unless it’s Kurds headed to support their brethren on the other side.

      • I mentioned drones because the people are dangerous but protected by the King, so the USA would get no cooperation from KSA in stopping them.

        If there were any intelligent people in Turkey, htey woudl negotiate with the Kurds to break off part of Turkey to form a Kurdish nation and have a good relationship with the new country, Kurdistan will exist eventually, so why not negotiate instead of losing it via a war that Turkey can not win?

        BTW – targeted assassination is a very reliable tactic that has been used for centuries. The only difference now is we can do it remotely instead of endangering our assassins.

    • As the article says, the oil trucks plying their trade are a low-density target. Warthogs can be effective once they find a target, but they are expensive to operate. As much as I admire Warthogs, drones would be a more cost-effective weapon.

  2. Oh dear, another one of those “money is the lifeblood of the insurgency” type arguments. It is not: the lifeblood of an insurgency is a cause! It is the cause that draws thousands of fighters from around the world. These fighters know the odds of being killed in this battle but they keep coming. These fighters don’t come because the cause is well funded.

    Many seem to think that bombing some poor working guy driving a truck is going to hurt the cause, no it strengthens it.

    You want too kill the cause? Listen the why they are fighting, they are happy to tell you.

    • Wars can not exist in a financial vacuum. Most groups eventually lost their wars when they run out of money.

      While there are a small number of disaffected young people that will gladly act as cannon fodder, without minimal funding, they quickly die of starvation or run out of ammo.

      The bottom line is to have a war, both sides need THREE THINGS:

      – lots of dumb cannon fodder willing to die for the “cause” (usually vague rah-rah garbage). Since there is always a supply of dumb humans trying hard to win the Darwin Award, cannon fodder can usually be found. Note that the pool of dumb humans is not very large and after a short period of time in a war zone, many humans either get killed or try to get away from the carnage (ISIS already has deserters).

      – Lots of war toys to be destroyed. When one side runs out of war toys, it loses.

      – Lots of wealth to waste on cannon fodder, war toys and high living for the “leader.” Notice how he leaders of every war live very nice lives even when the war ends up on their doorstep?

      So while destroying ISIS wealth will NOT end ISIS, it will severely cripple ISIS and decrease its ability to get cannon fodder and war toys.

  3. My understanding is that Putin has said that Erdogan is profiting from this trade, and that Russia will take it out. I have also heard that pretty much everyone in the area, including the groups the US is supporting, is buying Daesh oil.

    Nothing is as easy to identify from the air as an oil tank truck, and they will be removed from the roads in short order. Now, what will happen is that oil will start being carried in the midst of other cargo (food, goods, even people), so some will get through, but that is much less efficient; removing that traffic should really cut down on the Daesh gravy train.

  4. Every plan seems deficient in lacking a definitive what-comes-after. Assuming a collapse of Daesh, who takes responsibility for this region (euphrates valley from Ramadi to al-Raqqa more or less). Assad or the rebels seem hardly capable. the Iraqi state’s malign neglect seems largely responsible for the detente of the “surge” in al-Anbar devolving into this mess and becoming a base for Daesh’s birth as a state in Syria.

    To my mind some actual existing nation needs to permanently govern this Daesh-controlled (largely sunni) region, rather than hoping that bombing and starving the region will result in the emergence of a state that is not a threat to its neighbors and the world.

    I think that its worth considering that the nations that used to encompass this territory are badly broken would actually be well served by LOSING this territory to a neighbor, for the benefit of internal/regional stability and good governance of the Daesh region.

    As stated, Syria and Iraq seem hardly capable. Who else could annex this area? The options seem to be Turkey, Saudi and Jordan.

    Jordan is probably the best candidate, being already swamped with refugees, has tribal connections to al-Anbar tribes, and is a reasonably stable Sunni majority state. What if The Jordanians could be persuaded to take over the Daesh territory from Ramadi to al-Raqqa, up to around Sinjar, giving Jordanian citizenship to the indigenous people, and receiving massive international aid to do so?

    The key here is to deny the guerrilla the hospitable sea of population it swims in. A foreign occupier like the US or UN cannot do this. the IRAQIS cannot do this. Clearly the Syrians cannot do this. But maybe the Jordanians can do this, being co-religionists and co-tribalists in many cases. A strong police and internal security service is needed, but maybe the Jordanians are the least terrible one available to do the job.

    Given a well defined end point, an international force (perhaps largely led by Arab League nations with western special forces) could clear the Daesh area pretty quickly and allow the Jordanian administration to be established.

    Some have spoken about the desirability of an independent Kurdistan. I disagree that its workable to have an independent nation, especially when it takes from Turkey, which the Turks will not allow. I think that Iraqi Kurdistan should take control of the northern parts of the Daesh area (as it has been doing) and should make a federation with what remains of Iraq after the western tribes are absorbed into Jordan.

    This could also be a tipping point to a negotiated solution in Syria, as an elimination of Daesh would actually severely weaken Assad.

    These geographic borders are colonialist legacies, and George W, Assad and Daesh have already rendered them moot. Why not redraw them to something that better serves the inhabitants of these nations?

    Commenters please poke holes in this concept! I know there will be lots of objections, not least that the Jordanians, Syrians and Iraqis might never agree, but the potential up-side seems very great to me.

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