Just a month after the sudden withdrawal of U.S. forces from eastern Syria by the order of President Trump, he has since changed his mind and sent back nearly 600 troops in armed vehicles. This time, however, instead of protecting America’s allies, the Syrian Defense Force, the troops will be repositioned to protect the oil from Islamic gain. The SDF has been the U.S.’s allies in the fight against ISIS for years now. Friendship had formed through this bond, as one of the SDF leaders reported to The Guardian, “the thing which makes me sad is, in five years working with the U.S. military, we became real friends fighting ISIS.” As the withdrawal left their allies vulnerable to threats of a Turkish invasion, there has been and will continue to be U.S. concern for broken or strained relationships with the SDF.
The decision to leave Syria was made after a phone call between President Trump and the Turkish President. Shortly after, Trump made an order to pull out forces from Syria. This left a militant absence in places all around Syria, but most specifically those areas in most imminent danger of Turkish invasion. Kobani, in northern Syria, is one city that will face serious threats to Christian peoples and other minority communities in the wake of a U.S. military absence, according to NPR. Thousands of lives of people similar to those in Kobani that are in minority communities plus a multitude of others have lost their lives or are in serious threat of it due to the lack of protection of the U.S. forces following their withdrawal. For this reason, it is entirely understandable how relationships could be broken and trust lost.
The soldiers arriving back into Syria also understood this. NPR reports testimonies from members of the troops that they were initially apprehensive of how they would be greeted upon arrival. The response was not as they were expecting, however, and they were greeted with smiles and waves. Perhaps there was a misunderstanding that they were back to protect them, and not simply secure their oil.
President Trump has made it clear that his main motivation in keeping troops in Syria is to gain control of its oil and procure its revenue. The Guardian provides testimonies from Trump making clear his motives as he says, “we want to bring our soldiers home. But we did leave soldiers because we’re keeping the oil … I like oil. We’re keeping the oil.” This is a highly contentious decision as many consider it a violation of the laws of war, specifically the laws of war articulated in the Nuremberg trials. Additionally, The Guardian reports, “It could also violate the Authorisation for Use of Military Force granted by Congress to the US government in the immediate wake of the 9/11 attacks, intended for operations against al-Qaida and “associated forces”, which has been used to justify armed intervention across the Middle East.”
The way that the U.S. military officials justify this decision is by establishing the one goal behind this: fighting against ISIS with their allies, the SDF. This is nevertheless contrary to President Trump’s mindset, as he thinks the killing of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is a complete victory over ISIS. Further, the U.S. military perspective, according to The Guardian, aims to secure the oil revenue to give it back to the SDF. Again, in opposition, President Trump hopes to keep the revenue for U.S. gain alone. It is clear to see how divided goals within the US has high potential to lead to not only less success for them but also a less powerful aid to the SDF. Going forward, there should be a serious push for partnership with the SDF, both relying on them as an ally but also noticing their needs in the immediate threats they face. Further, serious consideration should be taken concerning the ethics behind entering Syria with oil in mind and action should be taken accordingly.