The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a Kurdish-Arab coalition supported by the U.S. government, captured Syria’s largest oil field from the Islamic State on Sunday.
SDF spokeswoman Laila al-Abdullah said that ISIS fighters were driven away with “little damage” to the oil fields.
“On Sunday early morning, our forces surprised the mercenaries [of ISIS] and did not give them the opportunity to commit subversive acts in the areas they leave. Our forces succeeded in liberating the Omar fields from the jihadists and driving them out of the fields without causing any damage,” said al-Abdullah, in a statement quoted by Kurdistan24.
Efforts are now underway to clear the terrorists from a nearby town where they have taken refuge. The U.S. coalition confirmed the SDF’s capture of the Omar oil field near Deir el-Zor on Monday.
The Omar field boasted a production capacity of 30,000 barrels per day before the Syrian civil war began, although its capability has been degraded to an unknown degree by fighting in the area, including airstrikes from both the Russians and U.S. coalition. Sales of captured oil boosted the Islamic State’s revenues by over $50 million per month at its peak.
Kurdistan24 portrays the SDF “racing” against Russian-backed Syrian government forces to take control of the Omar field, beating them by just two days. Deutsche Welle quotes SDF officials estimating that Syrian regime forces are less than two miles away from the field, their advance crucially delayed by an Islamic State counterattack last week.
“It was unclear how the Syrian regime, backed by Russia, Iran, and Shiite militias, would respond to the seizure of the oil field,” Deutsche Welle writes rather delicately, given what Iran and its militias are currently doing to the Kurds next door in Iraq. “The regime has vowed to retake all the territory, and Deir el-Zour’s oil wealth would be a key prize for Damascus.”
The Washington Post reports that Syrian government forces, “backed by Russian warplanes and Iranian-sponsored militias,” currently hold most of Deir el-Zour’s provincial capital and the town of Mayadeen, which lies just across the Euphrates river from the Omar oil field.
Lebanese media controlled by Iran’s allies Hezbollah is denying the SDF’s claim to control the oil field. Some reports seek to minimize the strategic value of the capture by needling the Kurds over how much oil they lost control of when they were driven from Kirkuk, implying that since the United States didn’t come to the Kurds’ rescue in Iraq, the SDF won’t be able to hold Omar when the Assad regime and its partners move on the oil fields.