Earlier today we revisited Islamic State’s most important revenue stream: crude oil.
When US attack planes destroyed 116 ISIS oil trucks on November 16 (allegedly after dropping leaflets warning “innocent” drivers to scatter), it purportedly marked a shift in strategy. “Somehow”, the Obama administration had grossly underestimated the proceeds ISIS derives from the illicit oil trade while overestimating the damage US warplanes had inflicted on the group’s oil infrastructure.
Additionally, Bloomberg suggests the Pentagon routinely declined to take out tanker trucks for fear of collateral damage. “None of these guys are ISIS. We don’t feel right vaporizing them, so we have been watching ISIS oil flowing around for a year,” Michael Knights, an Iraq expert at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy told Bloomberg.
There are a couple of things that should jump out at you there. First, it’s not exactly clear why it matters that the administration “underestimated” the amount of revenue ISIS derives from oil. That is, the difference between $100 million and $400 million per year would be quite meaningful if you were talking about a corporation here, but this is a terrorist group. Sure, it matters that they’re making four times more than you thought when it comes to assessing their operational capabilities (the more money you have, the more you can do), but it shouldn’t matter when it comes to formulating a strategy to cripple their ability to produce oil. It’s not like you can say “oh, well they’re only making $100 million per year, so that’s fine.. now if it’s $400 million, that’s where we’ll have to draw the line.”
Second, since when is the US worried about collateral damage when it comes to taking out “terrorists?” As The Intercept laid bare in a series of recent investigative reports, 90% of those killed in drone strikes aren’t the target. It’s not as if the CIA isn’t aware of that statistic each and every time they pull the trigger on an MQ9 Reaper.
So sure, perhaps the US overestimated the effect its airstrikes were having on Islamic State’s oil production capabilities and perhaps The Pentagon was concerned with killing innocent truck drivers, but it could also be that, as Sergei Lavrov suggested earlier this week, the US has until now intentionally avoided hitting ISIS where it hurts in order to keep them in the game and ensure they can still be effective at destabilizing Assad. If you cut off the oil trade, they lose the ability to battle the regime.
In any event, there are other pressing questions about ISIS and oil and we encourage you to read more in “The Most Important Question About ISIS That Nobody Is Asking,” but for now, we turn to Russia and The Kremlin’s efforts to dent Bakr al-Baghdadi’s wallet.
According to Russian General Staff spokesman Colonel General Andrey Kartapolov, “around 500 fuel tanker vehicles transporting illegal oil from Syria to Iraq for processing have been destroyed by Russia’s Air Forces.”
“In recent years, Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) and other extremist groups have organized the operations of the so-called ‘pipeline on wheels’ on the territories they control,” Kartapolov continued, adding that “in just the first few days, [Russian] aviation has destroyed 500 fuel tanker trucks, which greatly reduced illegal oil export capabilities of the militants and, accordingly, their income from oil smuggling.”
Without further ado, the video from the Russian Defense Ministry: