Syrian oil a bone of contention between Pentagon, Trump


It is amusing to record US explanations for the continuing presence of its soldiers in north-eastern and eastern Syria. US President Donald Trump was the first to state why US troops, who were supposed to exit Syria, would remain in this area. “We want to bring our soldiers home. But we did leave soldiers because we’re keeping the oil,” he stated. “I like oil. We’re keeping the oil.”

This suggested that he intended to pump and sell the oil, and keep the proceeds as payment for the US-led campaign to defeat Daesh. This would be a war crime under precedents set by the Nuremburg trials of Nazi officers and officials after World War II.

Keeping hundreds of troops in Syria amounted to a reversal of his policy, proclaimed repeatedly and reaffirmed at the beginning of last month, to pull all US troops out because of a presidential campaign promise to his base that he would end the US involvement in “endless wars” in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan.

Trump declared he intended to, “Get the hell out of Syria. It’s sand and blood and death.” Deaths have, however, been disproportionate. No more than six US troops died during the campaign against Daesh, four at a cafe in the town of Manbij, in comparison to 11,000 Kurdish and Arab fighters of the US-founded and fostered Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). They did the ground fighting in operations against Daesh while US war planes provided air cover from high in the sky.

Trump’s withdrawal outraged US civilians, militarymen and allied governments because it had a predictable result. He gave Turkey a green light to attack the SDF and seize a 120 kilometre long and 30 kilometre wide section of Syrian territory between the border towns of Tal Abyad and Ras Al Ain. Turkey’s Syrian surrogates drove out some 200,000-300,000 civilians and killed several hundred fighters and civilians.

The Pentagon replied to Trump’s proclamation of an oil grab by saying the US would not keep revenue from the sale of this oil but would see that this goes to the SDF. Subsequently, the administration said it was deploying troops in a wide swathe of Syrian territory to deny Daesh the oil revenues.

Trump remarked, “We may have to fight for the oil. It’s ok.” He did not say whom he would fight. The Syrian government is, after all, the legal owner of the oil and the national oil company should be in charge of exploiting it for the benefit of Syrians rather than for a US surrogate militia. But this is the primary motive of Trump and his minions rather than concern over Daesh remnants once again occupying the oil fields, which are in serious disrepair and are producing a fraction of the 385,000 pre-war barrels of oil a day, or 0.5 per cent of global output.

The Pentagon scrambled to clarify and justify Trump’s statements. “The securing f the oil fields is a subordinate task to that mission. And the purpose of that task is to deny [Daesh], the revenues from that oil, infrastructure,” Rear Admiral William Byrne, deputy director of the joint-chiefs-of-staff, said, lamely. “I’m not sure [Daesh] is going away yet. And that’s why we’re there: to help them go away.” In spite of Turkish objections, he said the US would continue to arm the SDF.

US armed forces chief-of-staff Gen. Mark Milley revealed that 600 troops will remain. “There will be less than 1,000 for sure,” he stated, referring to the number of soldiers Trump ordered to leave the Syrian-Turkish border zone in the north, a reduction of 50 per cent from the 2,000 deployed in Syria during the campaign against Daesh.

Milley did not mention Syrian oil, which seems to be a bone of contention between the Pentagon and the current occupant of the White House. It must be pointed out that convoys of US soldiers enclosed in the thick armour of immense Bradley Fighting Vehicles and tanks are cruising along Syria’s main highways connecting the cities of Hasakeh and Qamashli via the town of Tal Tamir, while its countryside is a battleground between units of the SDF and the Syrian army and Turkey’s proxy militias largely comprised of taqfiris recruited from groups affiliated with Al Qaeda and Daesh.
By giving Ankara the Green Light to invade north-eastern Syria last month, Trump reintroduced taqfiri elements after they had been excluded by The Kurdish-dominated SDF, which Ankara considers to be a “terrorist” organisation due to its ties to Turkey’s own Kurdish insurgents seeking autonomy or independence.

Turkey’s proxies have attacked villages outside the “safe zone”, violating the ceasefire reached between the SDF, Russia and the Syrian army. At least 30 Syrian army soldiers have been killed in shelling and clashes.

Ankara is also constantly reinforcing its dozen “observation posts”, which are, in fact, large, walled military bases, encircling north-western Idlib province and providing arms to Al Qaeda’s Hay’at Tahrir Al Sham, which dominates Idlib, with the aim of preventing the Syrian army, backed by Russian airpower, from ending the taqfiri revolt in this area and returning Idlib to Damascus control.

The last thing Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan wants is for this war to end with a peace deal reached at ongoing talks in Geneva between the government and the opposition. His star fading in the Turkish firmament, Erdogan is using the Syrian war, the threat he claims is posed by Kurds in the SDF and the lingering presence of Daesh fighters, in prison or free in Syria, to bolster his political position at home. Grabbing Syrian territory and deporting some of the widely unpopular 3.5 million Syrian refugees in Turkey shores up his support among his domestic constituency.

As they say, “all politics are domestic”, even the politics of waging war.



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