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The U.S. backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) with air support from the U.S.-led coalition captured the al-Omar oil field from the Islamic State. The oil field, located in the Deir Ezzor province near the east bank of the Euphrates River, was captured on October 22nd.

The recapture of the al-Omar oil field is a tremendous victory for the SDF because it is the largest oil field in Syria. The U.S. backed coalition is now racing with Russian backed Syrian government troops to seize the remaining parts of Deir Ezzor from the Islamic State.

The al-Omar oil field in 2011 had the capacity to produce 75,000 barrels per day. Before the Syrian Civil War erupted in 2011, the oil sector was the main resource for the economy, with the country producing about 380,000 barrels per day. By mostly exporting to Europe, brought in more than $3 billion dollars in revenue.

Oil fields have proven to be strategically important for the financial backing of the Islamic State. At its peak in 2014, the group controlled as many as 11 oil fields in Iraq and Syria. From the al-Omar field, it is estimated that the Islamic State made $5 million per month off oil sales through smuggling networks that led through the northern region of Iraq to the Turkish border, as well as south of Syria into Jordan. They used the black market to sell these resources. However, to halt the oil production in 2015,  the SDF acting with the U.S. led coalition increased airstrikes which destroyed parts of the al-Omar oil field and put a dent in the Islamic States production capabilities.

The oil revenue has fallen dramatically with the terror group’s loss of territory since 2015. In 2015 during their second quarter IS made $81 million, in 2017’s second quarter the group only made $16 million. This correlates to their massive amounts of territory lost such as Tel Afar, Mosul, Raqqa,  amongst other important towns and cities.

Although there has been a decrease in IS profit U.S. official Amos Hochstein from the State Department stated that the Assad regime has also purchased energy resources through the terrorist group. The purchased energy has been used to power the Syrian capital Damascus as well as other parts of the country. The Syrian state-own energy company and oil ministry denied the allegations.

The Syrian government has retaken nearly all of the provincial capital of Deir Ezzor as well as surrounding towns such as Mayadeen. The SDF have focused their operations on the al-Omar oil field, natural gas fields and rural areas on the eastern side of the Euphrates river within the province.

The SDF’s overall objective is to maintain territory in the north-eastern region of Syria, which is predominately a Kurdish population together with a sizeable group of other minority groups. By holding the country’s largest oil reserves gives the SDF more legitimacy and bolsters their effort at establishing autonomy. However, absent outside assistance, it is unlikely that the SDF will hold the al-Omar oil field as the Assad regime has vowed to bring back all areas of Syria under government control, and the Assad regime will likewise need control of the largest oil producing field.

As the SDF continues to recapture territories from the Islamic State, it is important that they want to maintain control of the oil and other natural resources, to quickly end insurgency with the Islamic State and drive the terror group from Syria completely. However, it is unlikely that they will able to hold large swatches of the oil-rich regions for long, as the Syrian government will act quickly and through military action to regain its most prosperous resource. After Deir Ezzor is completely liberated from the Islamic State, the only remaining areas within Syria that would be left are within the eastern areas of the Euphrates river bordering Iraq, as well as two areas in the south-west of the country bordering Israel.

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