French air strikes target Islamic State oil infrastructure

A French Mirage 2000D returning to its base after striking ISIS positions in Iraq and Syria

DAKAR/PARIS (Reuters) – French warplanes have struck Islamic State oil and gas infrastructure targets in eastern Syria aimed at weakening Islamic State’s financial resources, Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said on Tuesday.

Paris launched its first combat missions in Syria at the end of September, destroying Islamic State training camps to prevent the group from carrying out attacks against French interests and to protect Syrian civilians. However, the strikes this week appear to go beyond its original mandate.

“There was a strike yesterday on an oil distribution center and last night we have hit another oil distribution center and a gas separation factory,” Le Drian told a news conference in Dakar.

The defense ministry said the strikes had taken place in the Deir az-Zor region.

“The objective is to weaken the financial capacity of Islamic State by disrupting the exploitation of oil resources in zones under the control of this terrorist group,” it said in a statement.

France had until September only struck Islamic State targets in neighboring Iraq, carrying out just 3 percent of air strikes in an offensive on the group by a U.S.-led coalition.

It has now carried out dozens of sorties over Syria, but just five strikes so far. It announced this week it was deploying its aircraft carrier to the region to bolster French firepower while international efforts were underway to launch Syrian peace talks.

Ahead of a new round of negotiations in Vienna on Saturday, Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said profound differences remained especially with regard the future of the Syrian leader.

“We consider that Mr Bashar al-Assad in the end cannot govern Syria and we also consider it impossible that the Iranians, who have troops on the ground even if they say they are military advisers, stay in Syria permanently,” Fabius told lawmakers.