US administration officials, including Sec John Kerry, many times in 2013 and 2014 talked about how ISIS uses its border with Turkey to smuggle its oil. This revenue source described as one of the significant sources to finance ISIS operations.
This rhetoric has been suddenly changed since last Friday, when the US administration's special envoy Amos Hoschstein, who particularly deals with ISIS energy revenues issue, stated on the record: ''there is not significant volume of ISIS oil being smuggled into Turkey.''
On the same day a senior State Department official gave a long briefing on the same subject and rejected the notion that ISIS is making a lot of money by smuggling oil to Turkey. When I asked ''how about 2013 and 2014,'' official also talked along the same line that ISIS smuggling to Turkey was not a big sector then:
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL (Friday, State Dept., Dec 4th): So first, on ’13, ’14 – I don’t have information of – any credible information at all of Turkish Government and ISIL coordinated smuggling operations. And look, if you look to the history of this area pre-conflict, during the Assad, Sr., Hafez al-Assad, you will see that there was some smuggling happening because of the arbitrage. You have – and you have this black market emerge when one side of a border has subsidized prices and the other one has less subsidized prices, and you therefore have a liter of petrol being sold at 50 cents here and $2 on the other side. You just created a black market, right? Just by the fact that those two – those two facts.
So was – is there smuggling that happens that has gone on for over a hundred years on this? Yes. My argument is that there is no – there hasn’t been, that I know of, a government-inspired smuggling operation from ISIL control at any given point. Overall, I will say that my discussions with my Turkish counterparts have been good on this issue. We have shared information. We are working to avoid it, and that’s why we’re seeing this decrease in the smuggling. It’s a very long border. So that’s as far as the 2013, 2014.
As far as the Abu Sayyaf information, I have – I’ve seen the areas of the information that are relevant to what I do for a living, which is going after the energy pieces, and in what I’ve – all I can tell you is that from what I’ve seen, I have not seen any of the rumors that are reported in some areas on the internet.
On Monday, this time I tried to learn from the State Department Spokesperson John Kirby why it took 2 years for the US Government to say Turkish border is not a significant road for smuggling oil (At the end, I give my own theory about this):
My Qs & As w Kirby on ISIS smuggling oil to Turkey
QUESTION: I have one more. There was a briefing last Friday about the ISIL smuggling oil situation, and the official stated that there isn’t much or significant volume of the oil smuggled to Turkey and this is also the case for 2013 and ’14, whereas we have many statements, including from Secretary Kerry and other officials during these years suggesting that there is oil and that finances ISIL. So there’s a discussion whether seems to be the information or the statements in those years kind of not exactly align with last week’s briefing.
MR KIRBY: I’m not quite sure I completely understand your question, but I think I got it. So let me take a crack, and then if I don’t get it, you tell me.
QUESTION: Okay, thank you.
MR KIRBY: We know that oil smuggling remains a source of revenue for ISIL, no doubt about it. And we know that some of those smuggling routes run across that border with Turkey. That’s just a fact, and the Turks have talked about that too. Which is one of the reasons why we just talked about strikes that DOD spoke to yesterday against oil heads, I mean – which is why you start to see some of these strikes against the oil infrastructure that ISIL has or is trying to exploit. We know it’s a source of revenue from them. There’s other sources of revenue as well. I’ve talked about extortion, I’ve talked about infrastructure. I’ve talked about theft. And we’ve talked about the fact that they get resources from outside. But oil is one of them.
Now, if you’re asking about the accusations that the Turkish Government is profiting off of ISIL oil, I think we dealt with that last week pretty definitively; and the answer is no, we’ve seen absolutely no indication of that. And we, I think, rebutted that claim quite effectively, and I have nothing new to add. We’ve not seen any collusion by the Turkish Government with ISIL for – in terms of oil smuggling or consumption, none at all. It’s just a baseless falsehood that was propagated about the Turkish Government.
But we all recognize that one of the ways they try to get money is through smuggling. And we’re all working very hard – one of the reasons, back to the answer I gave the gentleman back there. One of the reasons we’re all working very hard to see if we can’t seal off that section of border to limit their ability to gain revenue from that – from oil smuggling.
QUESTION: John, on --
QUESTION: Do you think this briefing or this statement that this smuggling of oil business between the ISIS and Turkey is not really significant, came too late, because this been a point of wide discussions in Turkey for two years, that whether these incoming different statements from U.S. side suggesting that there is smuggling of oil? So question is: Was it too late to make this clear, whereas the topic has been discussed for two years now?
MR KIRBY: I think we were responding to false allegations put out in particular by the Russian side. So I don’t know about – I don’t know how to answer your question whether it was too late or not; it was in response to a complete fabricated falsehood.
Again, Turkey is a vital ally, a NATO ally, and a vital partner in this fight, and we all recognize the challenges along that stretch of border and we’re working hard to shut it down. I don’t think anything was too late. I mean, I’ve been talking about, as part of my role here and in another building, about the sources of revenue that ISIL gets. We’ve been talking about this for more than a year. And it’s not been any secret that we know that part of the way they finance themselves is through smuggling oil, through oil infrastructure
My theory: US Government, even though it was aware that there was not a significant oil smuggling taking place from ISIS held territory to Turkey, its officials used that talking point to put further pressure on the Ankara government to do more at borders with Syria. Recall: those years Turkish government was not doing much to stop anyone wanting to go to Syria, including foreign jihadists wished to join Al Qaida and ISIS ranks.