US-led coalition target IS oil facilities in eastern Syria

British Tornado jets struck oil fields in eastern Syria on Thursday that help finance the Islamic State group.

BY: Danica Kirka

LONDON (AP) – British Tornado jets struck oil fields in eastern Syria on Thursday that help finance the Islamic State group and Germany prepared to send reconnaissance aircraft to the Middle East as coalition forces stepped up efforts to fight the militants.

The strikes at the Omar oil field came only hours after Britain's Parliament authorized military action in Syria against IS. Although several of the oil fields have already been hit by the U.S.-led coalition, Britain chose a target with low risk of collateral damage for its first strike in Syria.

"This strikes a very real blow at the oil and the revenue on which the Daesh terrorists depend," Defense Secretary Michael Fallon told the BBC, using the Arab acronym for IS.

The Ministry of Defense described the airstrikes as successful.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, meanwhile, again accused Turkey of profiting from an oil trade with IS. "We know who in Turkey are filling their pockets and allowing terrorists to earn money by selling oil stolen from Syria," he said in his annual state of the nation address.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has denied the allegations.

Fallon confirmed that eight more jets were on their way to Britain's base in Cyprus to join the attacks and warned that military action against IS could continue for years, not months.

Other allies also moved to get equipment into place as the buildup gained momentum. Germany's government said it planned to send up to six Tornado reconnaissance planes, tanker aircraft and a frigate to help protect the French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle in the eastern Mediterranean, but won't actively engage in combat.

In all, up to 1,200 German soldiers would be deployed to support the international coalition fighting the Islamic State group. Two Tornados and a tanker could be sent to Turkey's Incirlik air base next week if the German Parliament approves the mission Friday as expected.

The bulk of German troops and planes likely won't arrive in the region until next month.

German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen said the mission would have three components: to protect the French naval operations, to provide intelligence though the reconnaissance aircraft and satellite observation, and to offer logistical support like in-air refueling for allied planes.

"The goal... is to fight and contain IS, and destroy their safe havens and their ability to lead worldwide terror operations," she told reporters in Berlin before heading to Ankara for talks with her Turkish counterpart.

Providing the German assistance is approved by Parliament on Friday as expected, the frigate and Tornados are expected to be in place within the coming week, but won't reach full operating capability until January.

France welcomed the first British airstrikes in Syria, saying they are a sign of the European solidarity promised after the deadly Nov. 13 attacks on Paris claimed by IS militants.

In a statement Thursday, French President Francois Hollande said the British vote to begin airstrikes in Syria and the upcoming German vote were a sign that Europeans would stand together after IS attacks that killed 130 people and left hundreds wounded in Paris.

French fighter jets joined the U.S.-led coalition against Islamic State extremists in Iraq in 2014 and expanded their mission to IS targets in Syria in September.

European officials at an Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe conference in Belgrade said Thursday that only a joint global response can be effective in countering the threat of terrorism.

German Foreign Minister Frank Walter Steinmeier called for unity, saying "the situation is too dangerous, and freedom and stability too fragile, for us to counter each other." He was apparently referring to the spat caused by the downing of a Russian plane by Turkey. Foreign ministers from the two countries are to meet in Belgrade later Thursday for the first time since the incident.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov were also attending the meeting.


Menelaos Hadjicostas in Akrotiri, Cyprus and Bassem Mroue in Beirut, Lebanon, Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow, Jovana Gec in Belgrade, Serbia, and David Rising in Berlin contributed to this story.