October 20, 2014
Since beginning airstrikes across Syria in August, the US-led international coalition has focused heavily on the Islamic State-controlled Iraqi border town of Al-Bokamel, which sits between Syria's Deir e-Zor and Iraq's Anbar provinces.
There, coalition airstrikes targeted, among other locations, oil fields and refineries, paralyzing economic activity in a town whose residents rely on fuel supplies for personal business, Abu Zeid Abdullah, a member of the Syrian LCC Union, the umbrella group for the country's local coordination committes, told Syria Direct's Mohammed al-Haj Ali earlier this month.
Now, Abdullah says the coalition is targeting grain silos and mills. For Syrians living in these towns, the airstrikes are part of a larger plan to destroy Syria.
“Some civilians have come to believe that these strikes aren't intended to save them, but rather to destroy what's left of [Syria's] infrastructure and essential institutions.”
Q: How do civilians feel about IS? Is there sympathy for them?
Some civilians have come to believe that these strikes aren't intended to save them, but rather to destroy what's left of [Syria's] infrastructure and essential institutions. Especially after the coalition started to bomb makeshift oil refineries, those that families had grown accustomed to extracting fuels from to help meet their daily needs.
Also, the coalition started to bomb grain silos and mills in northern Deir e-Zor.
Today, [local] people consider IS, coalition forces and the Syrian regime to all be on the same level, that "they're all criminals,” because they all engage in killing, forced displacement, detentions and massacres against civilians, and haven't provided them with any aid.
Q: Have the air strikes become more effective over time? What are the new areas being targeted by the coalition?
No, the air strikes have not become more effective in the least.
All of the strikes have targeted [gas/oil] pipes and institutions, meaning that they disrupted IS's balance but they did not destroy the organization.
The most recent coalition targets have been military camps, oil fields, grain silos, mills and even primitive oil refineries. But these strikes are ineffective on the ground, they don't accomplish anything.
Q: Are IS fighters still hiding in residential areas? What else is IS doing to avoid the strikes?
Yes. Recently—after the intense airstrikes—IS began hiding within residential areas and took up positions there. These actions scared families in the area, and caused them to flee from houses that are close to IS positions. Also, IS fighters avoid moving about and [when they do] they use motorcycles rather than cars.
Q: Is there still movement between Syria and Iraq [through Al-Bokamel]?
Yes, the borders are long and open in front for IS's fighters. They easily cross the border anytime, at any point.
Q: Has the situation changed with regards to fuel? Is there any activity in the market?
Fuel has become an extremely rare good; its price in some villages has risen to three times the going rate. Why? Because of the destruction of refineries that families used to extract their fuels. Coalition warplanes destroyed these refineries.
This caused prices for all goods in the market to go up, which in turn caused a downturn in economic activity. Most families' businesses have shut down.
Q: Are there statistics on the number of civilians and IS fighters killed by the coalition in the area?
As far as statistics on civilians [in Al-Bokamel], we were able to document cases with precision.
We documented nine civilians killed, including women and children. More than 25 have been injured, among them women and children.
As far as IS's dead, getting information on that isn't easy. IS's policy of media blackouts and silence is well-known. They don't allow any media activity in areas under their control.
But according to information from sources inside IS, during these airstrikes—there were more than 80 strikes on Deir e-Zor city and its countryside—at least 140 IS fighters died, among them local commanders and foreign fighters.