US President Donald Trump has once again revealed his intention to take possession of Syrian oil in what is seen by experts as a move that would amount to a war crime.
Defending his decision to leave some American troops in the war-torn country, Trump told Fox News Friday night that “they say he left troops in Syria… do you know what I did? I took the oil.”
“The only troops I have are taking the oil, they are protecting the oil,” Trump said, prompting the interviewer, Laura Ingraham, to try to correct him by saying the soldiers were there to guard the facilities. But the president cut her off.
“I don’t know, maybe we should take it, but we have the oil. Right now, the United States has the oil. We have the oil.”
Trump has before too publicly mused about stealing Syria’s oil reserves.
In October, after ordering the withdrawal of American forces from Syria, Trump said he wanted a US oil firm to go to the Arab country to tap its oil.
“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 said back then.
In a major U-turn in the US military policy, the White House announced on October 6 that the US would be withdrawing its forces from northeastern Syria, clearing the path for an expected Turkish incursion into the region.
Three days later, Turkey launched the offensive with the aim of purging the northern Syrian regions near its border of US-backed Kurdish militants, whom it views as terrorists linked to local autonomy-seeking militants of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
In late October, the US Defense Department confirmed that “mechanized forces” would be redeployed in eastern Syria to protect oil fields there, a clear departure from Trump’s earlier order to pull out all troops from the country.
In November, the US president made it clear that his only mission to keep troops in Syria was to take possession of the country’s oil.
“We’re keeping the oil. We have the oil. The oil is secure. We left troops behind only for the oil,” Trump said.
Trump’s remarks contradicted earlier remarks by his Defense Secretary Mark Esper, who tried to justify the presence of “500 to 600-ish troops” in Syria by alleging they were seeking to deny ISIS – an acronym used by US officials to refer to Daesh terrorist group – access to Syrian oil reserves.
Taking hold of a foreign country’s oil reserves without permission from the sovereign authority would be a serious breach of international law.
In addition, the Geneva Convention, to which the US is a signatory, explicitly forbids the looting of property during conflict, referring to it as a war crime.
In December, a senior adviser to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said Damascus planned to file a lawsuit against Washington for plundering the Arab country’s oil resources.
Bouthaina Shaaban said the United States had no right to Syria’s oil, warning the US of popular opposition and operations against the presence of its troops at Syrian oil fields.
Shaaban was referring to Trump’s September announcement to retain American forces in Syria to secure oil reserves there.
Benjamin Friedman, policy director at think tank Defense Priorities and adjunct professor at the George Washington University, told The Independent last year, “The president appears to believe that the US can sell the oil, based on his statements in the past about Iraqi oil and Libyan oil … thinking that we can loot countries.”
“Taking the profits from the sale of Syrian oil for the US treasury would be illegal. That would probably qualify as pillaging under the law.”