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US-led Coalition Launches Second Day of Airstrikes on Islamic State's Syrian Oilfields

Shelling strays over Turkish border as Kurds try to halt IS advance on Syrian town of Kobane.

by John Beck
Sep 26 2014, 4:05pm

Image via AP

The US-led coalition conducting a series of airstrikes against Islamic State (IS) extremists in Syria has attacked oilfields controlled by the group for the second day running, according to local activists.

Targets in Deir Ezzor and Al-Hasakah were hit in air and missile strikes on Friday according to the UK-base Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which gathers information from a network of activists on the ground.

US Central Command (CENTCOM) confirmed that strikes had taken place in the area.

"In Syria, three airstrikes south and southeast of Dayr Az Zawr [Deir Ezzor] destroyed four ISIL[IS] tanks and damaged another," CENTCOM said in a statement. Video posted by local activists in Mayadin, part of Deir Ezzor governate, showed three columns of black smoke rising in the aftermath of the strikes. Deir Ezzor, in eastern Syria, was a major oil-producing region civil war gripped the country.

IS relies heavily on oil revenue from the fields it controls in Iraq and Syria. Raids on Thursday also targeted production and refinement facilities controlled by the group. The US Department of Defense subsequently released more information on the attacks, including before and after pictures showing damage done to the sites. 

CentCom added that it had also launched airstrikes on IS targets in Iraq, including five attacks south and southwest of Kirkuk which destroyed Humvees and other vehicles. Vehicles and facilities were also destroyed in strikes west of the capital of Baghdad near northwestern Al Qaim close to the Syrian border, it said.

The US has been conducting airstrikes on IS targets in Iraq since August, when IS made a push into territory controlled by the Western-backed Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) and seemingly threatened the capital of Erbil. This week it began strikes in Syria too and has since hit a number of targets in partnership with some of its allies in an American-led anti-IS coalition announced earlier this month.

The UK parliament was set to vote on Friday on whether it would also begin conducting airstrikes against IS in Iraq, although taking parts in strikes in Syria is not currently on the table. Belgium is also debating its involvement. 

The US has been eager to build the broadest coalition possible. France, the US Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Jordan have already began strikes on IS targets. the Netherlands are also planning to send aircraft to take part in the attacks.

Denmark will also join the coalition striking the IS in Iraq, Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt announced on Friday, and will send seven F-16 fighter-bomber aircraft in a 12-month deployment to take part, along with 250 pilots and support staff, the Associated Press reported.

Thorning-Schmidt also urged other countries to join the coalition too: "No one should be ducking in this case. Everyone should contribute".

Turkey, which has land borders with both Iraq and Syria, has so far ducked a major role in the coalition, but after the release of Turkish hostages held by the group, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Friday that it had changed its position and that things would be "much different" in the future, 

IS first appeared in Syria around April 2013. Comprised mainly of foreign fighters, it initially appeared to be siding with rebels battling Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. However it soon became clear that the militants' priorities were to take advantage of the power vacuum created by the civil war and seize territory then implement its extreme version of Islamic law. Now estimated by the US to be as many as 31,000 strong, it overran large swathes of northern Iraq in a shock offensive in June this year and subsequently declared a caliphate in the areas under its control. The group has since been blamed for a litany of war crimes and human right abuses.

Also on Friday, fighting near the northern Syrian Kurdish border town of Kobane (also known by its Arabic name Ayn al-Arab) between IS, which launched a major offensive in the area last week and the Kurdish fighters defending it, spilled over into Turkey.

At least two shells landed in Turkish territory, hitting a vineyard, Reuters reported. Meanwhile, SOHR said that Turkish border guards and IS fighters had exchanged cross border fire in the region. The Turkish Ministry of Defense did not immediately respond to request for comment when contacted by VICE News.

Follow John Beck on Twitter: @JM_Beck

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