US Defends its Illegal Presence in Syria

US troops in Syria clashed with both Russian and Syrian government forces in August

In comments to Newsweek, the US State Department defended the US occupation of eastern Syria. Washington’s policy in Syria has come under fire in recent weeks after US troops clashed with both Syrian government forces and Russian soldiers.

“We have been very clear regarding our overall policy goals in Syria,” the State Department told Newsweek. “The United States’ policy objectives for Syria have been consistent and remain the same: the enduring defeat of ISIS and Al-Qaeda, an irreversible political solution to the Syrian conflict in line with UNSCR 2254, and the removal of all Iranian-supported forces.”

The State Department spokesperson also addressed a recent oil deal inked between a US company and the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), who the US backs. “We are continuing the vital mission of assisting our SDF partners in securing oil fields in northeast Syria once occupied and used by ISIS to generate revenue,” the spokesperson said.

The State Department’s position reflects both President Trump’s and the Pentagon’s stated goals in Syria. Since October 2019, when President Trump decided to stay in Syria to “secure the oil,” the Pentagon has maintained the US mission is to prevent ISIS from regaining a foothold in the region. Iran is another factor many US officials cite when justifying the presence in Syria, which is also mentioned by the State Department.

Of course, the Syrian government considers the US presence an illegal occupation and denounces the oil deal as theft. The US denying the Syrian government access to its vital resources, combined with heavy US sanctions, is severely hampering the country’s reconstruction effort.

Despite the State Department’s claims about protecting the area from ISIS, the US troops in the area have been mostly confronting Syrian and Russian soldiers. US attack helicopters fired on a Syrian government checkpoint in August, killing one Syrian soldier. Later in August, US and Russian military vehicles collided, injuring at least four US soldiers.

The Syrian government continues to fight what ISIS militants are left in the country. Last week, Syria took heavy casualties in a battle with ISIS remnants in the eastern Deir Ezzor region.

Author: Dave DeCamp

Dave DeCamp is the assistant news editor of Antiwar.com, follow him on Twitter @decampdave.