US A-10 Attack Planes Hit ISIS Oil Convoy to Crimp Terror Funding
In the first wave of U.S. airstrikes since the Paris attacks, A-10 Thunderbolt ground attack aircraft and AC-130 gunships raked a convoy of more than 100 ISIS oil tanker trucks in Syria in a stepped-up effort to cut off a main source of terror funding, the Pentagon said Monday.
The Navy also announced that the aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman and its battle group had departed Naval Station Norfolk in Virginia on a seven-month deployment to the Mideast to plug a gap in the U.S. air arm that has existed since the carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt left the region in September.
Pentagon officials also said that the French carrier Charles de Gaulle was also expected to leave port soon and head to the region to bolster coalition air assets with the 11 Rafale and 9 Super Étendard fighters aboard.
The oil convoy attack and the carrier deployment signaled the U.S. intent to intensify airstrikes while increasing efforts to share intelligence with allies in the aftermath of the Paris carnage last Friday that killed at least 129, but President Obama insisted that there would be no fundamental changes in strategy.
"We have the right strategy and we're going to see it through," Obama said at a news conference at an economic summit in Turkey before heading to the Philippines and Malaysia for summit meetings there.
The president announced an agreement between the United States and France to share more intelligence information to prevent future terror attacks and refine airstrike targeting in Iraq and Syria.
The agreement would "allow our personnel to pass threat information, including on ISIL, to our French partners even more quickly and more often," Obama said.
The U.S. will increase airstrikes and boost support for local forces fighting ISIS in Iraq and Syria but would continue to avoid "boots on the ground" combat, he said.
"What I do not do is take actions either because it is going to work politically or it is going to somehow, in the abstract, make America look tough or make me look tough," Obama said.
Sending U.S. ground troop into Syria and Iraq "would be a mistake, not because our military could not march into Mosul or Raqqa or Ramadi and temporarily clear out ISIL, but because we would see a repetition of what we've seen before" in the invasion of Iraq in 2003, he said, referring to another term for ISIS.
Lasting victory over terrorists and insurgents requires local forces and populations to take control with U.S. support, Obama said -- "unless we're prepared to have a permanent occupation of these countries," he said.
Obama was adamant in rejecting the calls by Republican presidential candidates and congressional leaders to scrap plans to admit at least 10,000 Syrian refugees to the U.S. for fear that terrorists would slip in among them.
"The people who are fleeing Syria are the most harmed by terrorism -- they are the most vulnerable as a consequence of civil war and strife," he said. "We do not close our hearts to these victims of such violence and somehow start equating the issue of refugees with the issue of terrorism."
In response, Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee, said Obama's remarks at a news conference were defeatist. "Never before have I seen an American president project such weakness on the global stage," Preibus said.
With the exceptions of Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, and former Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pennsylvania, the Republican presidential candidates have also stopped short of recommending U.S. "boots on the ground" to counter the Islamic State.
At a Pentagon briefing, Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, said the force posture of the U.S. had not altered since the Paris attacks but "clearly, we are very interested in doing everything we can" to stop ISIS.
Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, said that Defense Secretary Ashton Carter and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper had approved plans to "bolster our intelligence sharing" with France to include specifics on "operational planning."
Carter and Clapper "provided new instructions that will enable the U.S. military to more easily share operational planning information and intelligence with our French counterparts on a range of shared challenges."
The first fruits of the intelligence sharing were seen Saturday when French warplanes, using airbases in Jordan and the United Arab Emirates, conducted airstrikes on the self-proclaimed ISIS capital of Raqqa in northwestern Syria.
Davis said that the French "nominated" the targets from intelligence supplied by the U.S. "This was something they were very interested in doing" following what happened in Parks, he said.
The attack on the tanker truck convoy at Abu Kamal was part of a "broader operation specifically to target ISIL oil revenues," Davis said.
"ISIL is stealing oil from the people of Iraq and Syria" at a rate estimated by the Treasury Department at $1 million daily, Davis said. By hitting ISIS-controlled oil facilities and distribution networks, "We're disrupting a significant source of funding" for terror activities, he said.
Davis said the warplanes dropped leaflets warning of the convoy attack before the strike commenced to allow truck drivers who may not have been allied with ISIS to escape.
"It is a balancing act," he said of the strikes on oil facilities. The U.S. wanted to cut off the funding the al-Qaeda-inspired group gets from oil sales while leaving behind the basic infrastructure for a future democratic Syria.
Davis echoed the remarks last week at a Pentagon briefing from Baghdad by Army Col. Steve Warren, a spokesman for Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve.
Warren said that two-thirds of the ISIS oil revenues come from the eastern Syrian region near the city of Deir ez-Zor, which has been a main focus of U.S. airstrikes.
"Our intent is to shut those oil facilities down completely," he said. "We've done a very comprehensive analysis of these facilities to determine which pieces of the facility we can strike that will shut that facility down for a fairly extended period of time.
"Again, we have to be cognizant that there will be a time after the war -- the war will end," he added. "So we don't want to completely and utterly destroy these facilities to where they're irreparable."
The campaign against ISIS oil facilities has been named "Operation Tidal Wave II." The original Operation Tidal Wave was the disastrous raid in August of 1943 by B-24 Liberator bombers on the Ploiești, Romania, oil facilities that were supplying Nazi Germany.
Fifty-three aircraft and 660 crew members were lost, and the U.S. military later concluded that the raid had little or no effect on oil production.
--Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@military.com.
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