Syrian Oil Tanker Drivers Warned Before US Bombs Fell

Patrick Goodenough | November 19, 2015 | 4:47am EST
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Anti-ISIS coalition aircraft dropped warning leaflets before bombing oil tankers in Syria for the first time this week, urging the truck drivers to flee. (Image: DoD)

(  - In a bid to deprive the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS/ISIL) of vital energy supplies and revenues, U.S. forces have for the first time bombed oil tankers in the Syrian desert, but only after dropping leaflets warning truck drivers – deemed to be non-combatants – to “get out of your trucks now and run away from them.”

A total of 116 tankers, queued up near an oil facility in Al-Bukamal in eastern Syria, were destroyed with 500-pound bombs, U.S. Army Col. Steve Warren told reporters at the Pentagon Wednesday in a teleconference briefing from Baghdad.

The assault by A-10 fighters and AC-130 Hercules gunships, while the first targeting trucks, was part of an ongoing operation aimed at destroying the entire oil distribution chain that benefits the terrorists, including wellheads, pumps and collection points, he said.

About 45 minutes before the strikes, aircraft dropped leaflets carrying simple warning messages.

“Get out of your trucks now, and run away from them,” they read. “Warning: airstrikes are coming. Oil trucks will be destroyed. Get away from your oil trucks immediately. Do not risk your life.”

Warren, who is spokesman for the U.S.-led anti-ISIS coalition mission Operation Inherent Resolve, said assault aircraft also buzzed the trucks beforehand, to make their intentions clear in what he called “a very powerful message.”

“We assessed that these trucks, while – although they are being used for operations that support ISIL, the truck drivers themselves, are probably not members of ISIL,” he said.

“They’re probably just civilians. So we had to figure out a way around that. We’re not in this business to kill civilians, we’re in this business to stop ISIL, to defeat ISIL”

Warren said in one case civilians had run away from the trucks and took shelter inside a nearby tent.

Although by dint of their proximity and what they were doing they were “absolutely legitimate military targets,” he said, they had not been targeted.

“In a great sense of what we’re all about here, those pilots made a decision, you know, from the cockpit that they could accomplish their mission without striking that tent and without hurting any of those civilians.”

Warren suggested the experience may make tanker drivers less likely to continue helping ISIS.

“They’re civilians, they’re citizens of Syria. Granted, they’re oil smugglers. But they’re not really members of ISIL. So many of them have got the message that smuggling oil for ISIL is a much more dangerous business now than it was last week.”

Warren said revenues from stolen oil funds more than half of ISIS’ activities.

“We need to take this away from them so that their operations are more difficult to conduct.”

The mission to target the terrorists’ oil infrastructure is named “Operation Tidal Wave II.”

“This was a tidal wave that swept across these oil fields, and it really crippled them,” Warren said. “So, this was an extraordinarily, we believe, effective operation – Tidal Wave II.”

He said ISIS now faced the problem not of adjusting to the airstrikes, but of “trying to figure out how to fix their broken oil wells.”

The operation is named for a massive bombing raid during World War II in which the U.S. Air Force attacked oil facilities in Romania in a bid to deprive the Nazis of crucial fuel.

The 1943 Operation Tidal Wave came at huge cost, with dozens of B-24 bombers lost, 310 airmen killed, and more than 100 captured. Five Medals of Honor were awarded posthumously.

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