Why Are U.S. Troops Still in Syria?
U.S. troops in Syria were involved in an incident with Syrian government forces and local civilians earlier today in which one Syrian soldier was killed:
State-run Syrian media said four U.S. vehicles were stopped at a Syrian army checkpoint, then were surrounded by hundreds of people who removed a U.S. flag. Unverified videos shared on social media from the scene showed civilians shouting and cursing at U.S. personnel.
Human Rights activists said that U.S. troops shot dead a Syrian soldier after he had fired his gun in the air.
And among all this chaos, the Russians came to mediate between the Americans and the Syrians.
— Jenan Moussa (@jenanmoussa) February 12, 2020
Fortunately the latest incident did not escalate into a larger fight, but it is a reminder that the continued illegal U.S. military presence in Syria creates the potential for accidental clashes that could end up getting out of control. We have soldiers operating in someone else’s country without the agreement of their government, and sooner or later that is going to come back to bite us in a big way. As our colleague Doug Bandow pointed out in a recent article for TAC, U.S. troops remain in Syria for no good reason and they are at risk of clashing with Russian and Syrian government forces all the time:
Last month, American military forces physically blocked Russian troops from proceeding down a road near the town of Rmelan, Syria. U.S. troops were acting on orders of President Trump, who said back in October that Washington would be “protecting” oil fields currently under control of the anti-Assad, Kurdish Syrian Defense Forces.
Meanwhile, the Russians are acting on behalf of Syrian president Bashar Assad, who says the state is ultimately in control of those fields. While no shots were fired in this case, the next time Moscow’s forces might not go so quietly.
U.S. officials offered few details about the January stand-off, but General Alexus Grynkewich, deputy commander of the anti-ISIS campaign, said: “We’ve had a number of different engagements with the Russians on the ground.” Late last month the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported: “Tensions have continued to increase significantly in recent days between U.S. and Russian forces in the northeastern regions of Syria.”
The president presents the U.S. mission in Syria in terms of stealing Syrian resources, but no matter what the official excuse is there is no legal justification for American troops to operate in Syria for any reason. Congress never authorized them to be there, they are not there to defend the U.S. from anything, and there is no international mandate for their presence. More than a year has passed since the first supposed withdrawal that never materialized. U.S. troops have no business being there, and the longer they stay there the greater the chances that some of them will be hurt or killed for nothing. Every day that the president keeps troops in Syria, he is putting them at risk on a mission that serves no American interests.