Here Are the Leaflets We Dropped on Islamic State

Messages ordered drivers to abandon their oil trucks or die

by JOSEPH TREVITHICK

On Nov. 15, 2015, U.S. Air Force A-10 ground attackers and AC-130 gunships blew up a truck park near Abu Kamal, Iraq. The American pilots destroyed more than 100 tankers carrying oil that could fund the Islamic State.

The Pentagon followed this up with another massive strike on Nov. 22, taking out nearly 300 trucks in an attack near Al Hasakah and Deir Ezzor in neighboring Syria as part of Operation Tidal Wave II. The planes dropped leaflets in the area before the bombs, missiles and cannon shells came raining down.

Drivers at Abu Kamal got the warning 45 minutes before to abandon their vehicles … or die.

“We assessed that these trucks, while although they are being used for operations that support ISIL, the truck drivers, themselves, probably not members of ISIL,” U.S. Army Col. Steve Warren, the top spokesman for the task force in the region, told reporters on Nov. 18, using a common acronym for Islamic State. “They’re probably just civilians.”

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Above — the leaflet Warren showed at the Nov. 18 briefing. Pentagon art. At top — a U.S. Navy F/A-18F drops leaflet-filled PDU-5s during a training exercise. Navy photo

At the press conference, Warren showed a copy of one of the leaflets. “Warning. Airstrikes are coming, oil trucks will be destroyed,” the Arabic text states. “Get away from your oil trucks immediately. Do not risk your life.”

But that wasn’t all. After the briefing, War Is Boring submitted a Freedom of Information Act request for any leaflets used during Tidal Wave II and obtained low resolution copies of two of the messages dropped during the campaign. As it turns out, the leaflet provided to the press was only its front side. Flip it over, and the back side appears to show a burning truck.

“Oil trucks are being destroyed because buying this oil is the lifeblood of Da’ish. Leave the trucks and flee,” the Arabic-only message explains. Da’ish is the Arabic acronym for the Islamic State.

Above and below - scans of the leaflets War Is Boring obtained via FOIA. Pentagon art

A second leaflet seems like it could be targeted at refinery workers and truck drivers. The quality … isn’t great. The low resolution, black-and-white scan makes it hard to determine the background image.

“Oil operations controlled by Da’ish fund terrorism and oppress the people,” the second leaflet’s front side declares. “The Coalition Forces will continue to attack all Da’ish controlled oil facilities until Da’ish is defeated.”

For the reverse side, graphic artists included a map of the region and prominently marked the oil fields in eastern Syria. “Warning! Trucks and oil equipment used to support Da’ish can be targeted by the Coalition.”

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According to the information we received, a U.S. Central Command cultural adviser reviewed both “products.” To be most effective and not unintentionally offensive, the messages would need to use language and vernacular appropriate to the region.

We don’t know how well the warnings worked before either attack. “We did see some civilians run away from their trucks, but for some reason they ducked into a tent that was maybe 100 meters or so away from where these trucks were congregated,” Warren said after the Abu Kamal strike.

“You know, because of their proximity to where they were and what they were doing, these civilians were — these truck drivers were absolutely legitimate military targets.”

Warren then lauded the A-10 pilots and AC-130 crews for avoiding the tent as they raked the trucks with cannon fire. “Those pilots made a decision, you know, from the cockpit that they could accomplish their mission without striking that tent and without hurting any of those civilians.”

It’s not clear whether the A-10s or other aircraft dropped the leaflets. Various U.S. Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps aircraft can all carry the special PDU-5 leaflet dispenser. Using the same shell as the Rockeye tank-busting cluster bomb, the PDU-5 bursts open and scatters the paper messages over a target.