PICTURED: U.S. forces near Al-Tanf.
Story at a glance…
Three bases have been established by American forces in northeast Syria this year.
There is no legal justification either domestically or under international law for their presence there.
In lieu of support from the Syrian regime for their ground forces Iran has attempted to help them resist the Kurds.
AL-HASAKAH, Syria. September 3rd, 2022. The United States military have expanded from their border outpost at Al-Tanf to establish three new military facilities in Syria’s eastern oil fields.
This was reported Saturday by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which attempts to track the war crimes and human rights violations of all international powers and stateless entities in Syria.
Sources which the Observatory deemed as “reliable” said that U.S. forces created a third base in Naqarah village which is located nearly three kilometers to the south-west of Al-Qamishli city.
In total, the U.S. have established three bases in the area, including one on the runway of Al-Qamishli Airport.
All of these areas are within the zone of control of a faction of ethnic Kurds known as the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) which the U.S. supports as allies, but which Turkey views as terrorists based on the SDF’s backing of a group of Kurdish extremists in southeast Turkey.
From 2014 to 2019, legal debate as to whether the U.S. had any grounds for stationing troops in the country at times was quite heated, but any legal or political will to challenge first Obama and then Trump’s take-and-hold policy was severely lacking, and the Congress never attempted to assert their power as the only governmental entity with the authority to declare or authorize war.
That U.S. forces are expanding in the region even today is testament to that fact.
“We’re keeping the oil”
In a legal review entitled Still at War, by the think tank Just Security, a pair of legal and resident scholars detail that during Obama’s administration, attempts were made to legalize limited entry into Syria on grounds of both the 2001 Congressional authorization to hunt down the perpetrators of 9/11, and the 2002 authorization to attack Saddam Hussein.
“Obama sent two notifications to Congress pursuant to the War Powers Resolution (WPR) requirement to notify Congress within 48 hours of introducing U.S. armed forces ‘into hostilities or into situations where imminent involvement in hostilities is clearly indicated by the circumstances,’” they wrote.
The administration claimed the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (2001 AUMF), authorized airstrikes against ‘a series of al-Qaeda associated elements” based on controversial legal theory that the 2001 AUMF covers not just the Taliban and AQ, but also “associated forces” of those groups.
Under Trump, things were different, as his administration, with the help of Iran, had largely defeated ISIS and expunged them from their territorial holdings. Suddenly the job of justifying America’s legal basis for basing troops there became more difficult.
In January of 2018, former Sect. of State Rex Tillerson told the New York Times that the U.S. had five key reasons for staying in Syria, even after his administration had announced Mission Accomplished.
“They are ensuring that the Islamic State and Al Qaeda never re-emerge; supporting the United Nations-led political process; diminishing Iran’s influence; making sure the country is free of weapons of mass destruction; and helping refugees to return after years of civil war,” Tillerson said at the time.
A year later his former boss was a little more forthright. In 2019, Trump simply said that the U.S. would continue to hold Syria’s eastern oil fields because “we should”.
“We’re keeping the oil,” Trump said in Chicago at the time. “I’ve always said that—keep the oil. We want to keep the oil, $45 million a month. Keep the oil. We’ve secured the oil”.
“We should be able to take some also, and what I intend to do, perhaps, is make a deal with an ExxonMobil or one of our great companies to go in there and do it properly,” he added.
It doesn’t take a legal scholar to understand it’s against international law to station troops in a foreign country for the purpose of allowing a company to extract natural resources it has no title to.
Rather than thieving petroleum resources, the expansion of bases by the U.S. in the Al-Hasakah governate is in direct response to the increase in the presence of Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps. (IRGC) “militias” in the same area.
According to a paper from the Middle East Institute, two military regiments set up by the Syrian National Defense Forces are now accepting military aid including weapons and drones from Iranians, after deadly clashes that broke out in 2021 led to a partial withdrawal of Syrian government support in the city of Al-Qamishli.
The clashes were with the Kurdish SDF, who are attempting to keep the Syrian army out of the area. The IRGC, noticing the lack of support on the ground, began supplying the predominantly-Arab Syrian forces and winning the support of a local tribe of Arabs called the Tayy, strengthening the regime’s position in the city.
Samer al-Ahmed, an independent journalist from Qamishli residing in Turkey, recently told Al-Monitor “The militia leadership agreed [to increased support from Iran] due to the recent decrease of the Syrian regime’s support. These neighborhoods have thus become fully controlled by Iran”.
This is likely the reason for the rise in U.S. military presence in that area, where Russia, Turkey, and the Kurds are all attempting to help one faction wrest control of the northeastern border province.
Whether any of this was explained to or authorized by the House and the Senate is doubtful.
The most recent report Biden has made to Congress about Syria came before his ill-destined trip to Saudi Arabia.
“A small presence of United States Armed Forces remains in strategically significant locations in Syria to conduct operations, in partnership with indigenous ground forces, to address continuing terrorist threats emanating from Syria,” Biden wrote to Congress in June.
How far beyond the pale of the 2001 and 2002 AUMFs, or Biden’s addressing of terrorist threats it is, to be contesting a region of Syria bordering a NATO-ally Turkey with a local Arab-tribe and the Syrian military supported by Iran needs not to be elaborated further.