The Syrian army on Tuesday made progress in Kurdish-held areas near the border with Turkey, and deployed in areas in which oil fields are situated in the Hasakah province in northeastern Syria.
But Pentagon officials on Thursday claimed US military authority over Syrian oil fields since American forces are acting under the premise of “protecting Americans from terrorist activity” and would therefore be shooting any representative of the Syrian government who attempted to retake control over their country’s national resource.
Pentagon spokesperson Jonathan Hoffman and Navy Rear Admiral William D Byrne Jr. made this clear during a press conference in which the two US representatives were asked repeatedly about the legal basis for US claims on Syrian oil fields.
Less than two weeks ago, US Defense Secretary Mark Esper said, “That’s our mission, to secure the oil fields” in the Deir Ezzor area of eastern Syria.
“I am here to take property of these oil fields,” Byrne said at the media briefing, and added: “Our commanders always retain the right and the obligation of self-defense when faced with a hostile act or demonstrated hostile intent.”
Hoffman was more circumspect and said the oil revenue “from this is not going to the US. This is going to the SDF,” referring to the Kurds and the so-called Syrian Democratic Forces. Byrne said that the goal was to prevent ISIS from obtaining the oil revenue.
But then one reporter pointed out that ISIS fighters “have no armor, they have no aircraft”.
“Do they have the capability to actually seize the oil fields?” the reporter asked. “And isn’t this really about Russia and Syria seizing those oil fields?” Hoffman insisted that the goal was “to prevent a resurgence” of ISIS, reported Common Dreams.
Another journalist present also reminded the US officials that “the government of Syria is still, based on international law… [the] recognized legitimate government.” But Hoffman said: “Everyone in the region knows where American forces are. We’re very clear with anyone in the region in working to deconflict where our forces are. If anyone… we work to ensure that… no one approaches or has… shows hostile intent to our forces, and if they do, our commanders maintain the right of self-defense.”
According to Hoffman, “the legal basis for this comes under the commander-in-chief’s authority for us to be conducting counter-terrorism efforts against D-ISIS. And I get your point when you’re trying to decouple the ISIS issue from the Syria issue, but it is not a decoupled issue.”
The Pentagon official also confirmed that US forces may also stay for years to come. “We’re committed to [the defeat of ISIS], and we’re committed to staying in the region,” he said.
“We’re committed to, in this particular case, having troops in Syria in a way that helps us continue the D-ISIS mission as long as we believe it’s necessary.”