Donald Trump has insisted that the US military presence in Syria is “only for the oil”, contradicting his own officials who have insisted that the remaining forces were there to fight Isis.
Trump made his remarks while hosting Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, just over a month after the Turkish president launched an offensive into northeastern Syria, which has been formally condemned as destabilising by state department officials.
Sitting alongside Erdoğan, Trump contradicted his own officials and the Republican leadership on a range of issues, most importantly on the US military mission in Syria.
Following Trump’s earlier insistence that his administration was solely interested in “keeping” Syrian oil, the US military deployed mechanised military units to oil fields in the east of the country.
However, seizing or benefiting from oil on a foreign territory, without permission from the sovereign authority, would be a violation of international law. Several US officials had sought to interpret the president’s remarks as the US meant to meaning that the denying Isis access to the oil.
The US special envoy on Syria, James Jeffrey, said on Monday: “US forces in north-eastern Syria are there under an authorisation to fight terrorism, specifically to ensure the enduring defeat of Isis. That is their overall mission.”
“There are certain secondary missions that flow from that, such as working with local partners the SDF [Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces] in securing the oil fields to ensure that Isis or no other potentially hostile force obtain them,” Jeffrey said.
On Wednesday, however, Trump repeated his intention that the US should take possession of the oil in the region.
“We’re keeping the oil. We have the oil. The oil is secure. We left troops behind only for the oil,” Trump said.
Both parties in Congress have condemned the Turkish incursion and threatened sanctions unless it is reversed. US officials have describe it as unwelcome and destabilising. In the run-up to Erdogan’s controversial visit to Washington, senior officials expressed concern about reported war crimes committed by Turkish-backed Arab militias spearheading the offensive. One senior official told reporters that the US held Ankara responsible.
However, sitting alongside Erdogan, Trump said: “I want to thank the president for the job they’ve done.”
“The president and I have been very good friends, we’ve been friends for a long time – almost from day one,” Trump said. “I understand the problems that they’ve had, including many people from Turkey being killed, in the area that we’re talking about.”
It is unclear what the president meant. Turks have not been killed in significant numbers in north-eastern Syria, nor is there evidence of attacks on Turkey being launched from the area.
There are strong links between the Kurdish People’s Protection units (YPG), the main force in the SDF, and the insurgent Kurdistan Workers’ party (PKK), which has carried out attacks inside Turkey. But it is not the administration’s official position that PKK attacks justify the incursion into Syria. Officials including Jeffrey have criticised Turkey for abandoning a joint security mechanism agreed with the US, and invading the safe zone along the border that mechanism was intended to safeguard.
However, Trump shrugged off those concerns in his remarks on Wednesday.
“It’s time for us not to be worried about other people’s borders. I want to worry about our borders,” the president said.
The post Trump contradicts aides and says troops in Syria ‘only for oil’ appeared first on The Guardian.