Instead of deterring the radical Islamist group, American airstrikes against them have accomplished two things: they have increased ISIL recruitment while at the same time have destroyed and degraded Syria’s infrastructure, murdering innocent Syrian civilians along the way.
FBI Director James Comey told Congress in mid-September, just a week before airstrikes against ISIL expanded from Iraq and into Syria, that, “Support for Islamic State increased after U.S. airstrikes began in Iraq,” and, “ISIL’s widespread use of social media and growing online support intensified following the commencement of U.S. airstrikes in Iraq.”(1) According to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a large increase of 6,300 new fighters has been recruited into the group since the US began airstrikes. (2)(3) This is not surprising given the fact that Islamic extremist groups like ISIL draw their greatest legitimacy among their constituency from either actually fighting, or appearing to fight against the United States.
A month ago, Patrick Cockburn, a leading correspondent on the Middle-East, reported that, “The US-led air attacks launched against Islamic State (also known as Isis) on 8 August in Iraq and 23 September in Syria have not worked. President Obama’s plan to “degrade and destroy” Islamic State has not even begun to achieve success. In both Syria and Iraq, Isis is expanding its control rather than contracting.”(4)
Despite not only failing to degrade ISIL, the US airstrikes have also accomplished another long-standing US goal in the region: the further destabilization of the Syrian state. It has accomplished this by bombing Syria’s energy facilities and infrastructure under the pretext of choking off the revenues ISIL receives from its illicit oil sales. However this justification completely falls apart upon closer examination.
The US has been bombing oil and gas production sites, including oil fields and refineries inside Syria, and following one such strike in late September Reuters would report, “These so-called refineries are not a real target and they do not weaken Islamic State as they do not have any financial value for them,” Rami Abdelrahman of the [Syrian] Observatory [for Human Rights] told Reuters. “They are composed of trucks with equipment to separate diesel and petrol used by civilians.” These attacks, instead of striking at ISIL’s financial base, are accomplishing only the further destruction of Syrian infrastructure.
Coupled with this is the fact that although there have been widespread airstrikes against oil production in Syria, there have however been exactly zero strikes against oil production facilities inside of Iraq; the US is keeping in-tact energy facilities inside of the state that it has control over, whilst destroying the infrastructure of Syrian state which it seeks to degrade and destroy. This two-faced approach is a further attack upon the Syrian government, eliminating any chance they have of recapturing their nation’s oil refineries in-tact, which would also subordinate Syria to foreign investment in the rebuilding process if they were ever to be recovered. “The destruction of Syria’s oil infrastructure would also open the door for US and UK oil companies to win contracts to rebuild it, paid for in debt, by the Syrian state. Foreign companies running Syria’s oil and gas production would prevent Syria from nationalising their own resources and becoming an independent prosperous country. This would result in the basic enslavement of the country while mitigating the threat it poses to US client states including Israel, Saudi Arabia and Turkey,” Maram Susli, a chemist who worked alongside Theodore Postol to debunk false claims of Assad’s complicity in the Ghouta chemical weapons attack, further analyzes.(5)(6)
It should also be noted that this isn’t just an attack on the Syrian government, it is also an attack on the Syrian people, as fuel and oil prices have soared following the bombings, as well as have electrical failures and power blackouts. “The Americans are destroying our infrastructure,” one 35-year old resident said.(7) It should be stated that in the end, these oil resources ultimately belong to the Syrian people.
Casting further doubt on the United States’ stated aims is the fact that senior Obama administration officials are now considering bombing pipelines in Syria “in an attempt to cut off the huge profits being made by Isis from captured oilfields.”(8) However ISIL does not use these pipelines to transport and sell its oil, instead it uses trucks and smuggles the oil through Turkey. “Current oil production by the Islamic State in the Levant (ISIL) is estimated to be worth $800 million per year… The oil that ISIL sales on the black market—mostly via trucks through smuggling routes on the Turkish border—is sold at a steep discount at prices ranging from $25-$60 per barrel,” IHS, the consulting company widely quoted as an authority on ISIL oil revenues, reports. Thus we see the seeds being planted for further justifications to attack and destroy Syria’s energy industry, with no valid connection to stopping ISIL. (emphasis added)
Along with the destruction of Syria’s oil infrastructure, in September the Ambassador for the European Union in Iraq, Jana Hybaskova, testified before the European Parliament Foreign Affairs Committee stating that several EU member states have bought oil from the Islamic State, while refusing to name the guilty parties.(9) So while the western powers are profiting from ISIL’s illicit oil trade, keeping intact the refineries and oil fields in Iraq presumably to do so, they are as well destroying Syria’s infrastructure, as a further way to destabilize the Syrian state.