Trump OKs wider Syria oil mission, raising legal questions

Trump OKs wider Syria oil mission, raising legal questions

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump has approved an expanded military mission to secure an expanse of oil fields across eastern Syria, raising a number of difficult legal questions about whether U.S. troops can launch strikes against Syrian, Russian or other forces if they threaten the oil, U.S. officials said.

The decision, coming after a meeting Friday between Trump and his defence leaders, locks hundreds of U.S. troops into a more complicated presence in Syria, despite the president’s vow to get America out of the war. Under the new plan, troops would protect a large swath of land controlled by Syrian Kurdish fighters that stretches nearly 90 miles (150 kilometres) from Deir el-Zour to al-Hassakeh, but its exact size is still being determined.

Officials said many details still have to be worked out. But, Trump’s decision hands commanders a victory in their push to remain in the country to prevent any resurgence of the Islamic State group, counter Iran and partner with the Kurds, who battled IS alongside the U.S. for several years. But it also forces lawyers in the Pentagon to craft orders for the troops that could see them firing on Syrian government or Russian fighters trying to take back oil facilities that sit within the sovereign nation of Syria.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity in order to discuss internal deliberations.

Trump’s order also slams the door on any suggestion that the bulk of the more than 1,200 U.S. troops that have been in Syria will be coming home any time soon, as he has repeatedly promised.

Sen. Tim Kaine, a Virginia Democrat, called the mission misguided.

“Risking the lives of our troops to guard oil rigs in eastern Syria is not only reckless, it’s not legally authorized,” Kaine told The Associated Press. “President Trump betrayed our Kurdish allies that have fought alongside American soldiers in the fight to secure a future without ISIS – and instead moved our troops to protect oil rigs.”

The Pentagon will not say how many forces will remain in Syria for the new mission. Other officials, also speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss ongoing deliberations, suggest the total number could be at least 800 troops, including the roughly 200 who are at the al-Tanf garrison in southern Syria.

According to officials, lawyers are trying to hammer out details of the military order, which would make clear how far troops will be able to go to keep the oil in the Kurds’ control.

The legal authority for U.S. troops going into Syria to fight Islamic State militants was based on the 2001 and 2002 Authorizations for Use of Military Force that said U.S. troops can use all necessary force against those involved in the Sept. 11 attacks on America and to prevent any future acts of international terrorism. So, legal experts say the U.S. may have grounds to use the AUMF to prevent the oil from falling into IS hands.

But protecting the oil from Syria government forces or other entities may be harder to defend.

“The U.S. is not at war with either Syria or Turkey, making the use of the AUMF a stretch,” said Stephen Vladeck, a national security law professor at the University of Texas at Austin.

He added that while the U.S. Constitution bestows significant war powers on the president, those are generally meant to be about self-defence and for the collective defence of the country. Arguing that securing the oil is necessary for national security “just strikes me as a bridge too far,” he said.

Members of Congress, including Kaine, have also raised objections to the Trump administration using the AUMF as a basis for war against a sovereign government. That type of action, he and others have argued, required approval by Congress.

U.S. officials said the order approved by Trump does not include any mandate for the U.S. to take Syria’s oil. Trump has said multiple times that the U.S. is “keeping the oil.” But the White House and the Pentagon have so far been unable to explain what he means by that. Defence Secretary Mark Esper said Friday he “interprets” Trump’s remarks to mean the military should deny IS access to the oil fields.

There were already a couple hundred U.S. troops around Deir el-Zour, and additional forces with armoured vehicles, including Bradley infantry carriers, have begun moving in. Officials have said the total force there could grow to about 500.

Trump, Esper and other defence leaders have said it’s important to protect the oil so that Islamic State militants can’t regain control of the area and use the revenues to finance their operations.

Currently, the U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish forces have controlled the oil, supported by a small contingent of U.S. troops. A quiet arrangement has existed between the Kurds and the Syrian government, whereby Damascus buys the surplus through middlemen in a smuggling operation that has continued despite political differences. The Kurdish-led administration sells crude oil to private refiners, who use primitive homemade refineries to process fuel and diesel and sell it back to the administration.

It’s unclear how long that agreement may continue. And if some dispute arises, U.S. troops must have clear guidance on how to respond.

U.S. forces can use military force to protect themselves. But the oil fields are expansive, and troops can’t be everywhere. If, for example, Syrian government troops try to retake a portion of an oil facility and U.S. troops are not nearby, it’s unclear now how much force they could use if they aren’t acting in self-defence.

___

Associated Press writers Eric Tucker and Robert Burns contributed to this report.

Lolita C. Baldor, The Associated Press

Trump Syrian Oil

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Chief Medical Officer Dr. Deena Hinshaw, accompanied by Premier Jason Kenney, in March when the pandemic had just started in Alberta. On Wednesday, Kenney said COVID-19 vaccine will be distributed in three phases in the province. Photo by Government of Alberta
COVID-19 vaccine available to Albertans in January – distributed in 3 phases

Vaccine won’t be widely available until the fall of 2021

The G.H. Dawe Community Centre in Red Deer is getting a twinned ice rink, spray park and other upgrades as part of the 2021 capital budget. (Advocate file photo).
Red Deer city council approves $43.3 million upgrade to G.H. Dawe Centre

In a 7-2 vote, the majority on council felt it’s about time

Olds College received 10 Angus heifer calves, donated by The Canadian Red Angus Promotion Society. (File photo)
Olds College and TELUS to develop new agriculture technologies

TELUS Agriculture is investing $1 million in the Olds College Smart Farm.… Continue reading

Const. Jason Tress leaves Red Deer provincial court. An RCMP officer, whose name is under a publication ban, testified Tress sexually assaulted her at a party in 2012. Photo by PAUL COWLEY/Advocate staff
Former Red Deer RCMP officer denies sexually assaulting colleague

Former Const. Jason Tress took the stand in his own defence on Wednesday

A new public washroom, proposed for downtown Red Deer, was tabled in the city’s 2021 budget discussions so more questions can be answered about the proposal. (Advocate file photo).
Proposed downtown public washroom is stalled in 2021 budget discussions

More questions need to be answered about the $511,500 project

Dan Cochrane, senior pastor at CrossRoads Church. Contributed photo
CrossRoads Church closes its doors for two weeks after staff member tests positive for COVID-19

CrossRoads Church made the decision to cancel in-house services for two weeks… Continue reading

Goals galore for Ronaldo, Giroud, Neymar in Champions League

Goals galore for Ronaldo, Giroud, Neymar in Champions League

Toronto Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins is seen at a media availablity to introduce new pitcher Shun Yamaguchi in Toronto on January 15, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young
Jays ‘prepared’ if things pick up on free agency and trade fronts this off-season

Jays ‘prepared’ if things pick up on free agency and trade fronts this off-season

Shaquille Murray-Lawrence, left, and teammate Taylor Austin are shown during training in Whistler, B.C., in this undated handout photo. Montreal Allouettes running back Shaquille Murray-Lawrence is used to pysching himself up to sprint down a field, evading a crush of muscled men the entire way. But mentally preparing for his latest venture required bracing for a whole new set of anxieties. As he got ready to hop in a bobsleigh for the first time, Murray-Lawrence knew he'd be zipping down an icy track faster than cars are allowed to travel down most highways. Murrary-Lawrence, 27, is one of three CFL players who joined the national bobsleigh team after the league canceled its season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO - Shaquille Murray-Lawrence
Sliding into a new sport: CFLers turn to bobsled after football season wiped out

Sliding into a new sport: CFLers turn to bobsled after football season wiped out

North Carolina State defensive lineman Daniel Joseph (99) celebrates with linebacker Isaiah Moore after Moore forced a Liberty safety during the second half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 21, 2020, in Raleigh, N.C. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ethan Hyman, The News & Observer via AP, Pool
Canadian defensive lineman Daniel Joseph enjoying a banner first campaign at NC State

Canadian defensive lineman Daniel Joseph enjoying a banner first campaign at NC State

A Canadian Pacific Railway employee walks along the side of a locomotive in a marshalling yard in Calgary on May 16, 2012. CP says an investigation is underway following the release of a video showing one of the company's trains running over dozens of pronghorn antelope in southwestern Saskatchewan.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
CP investigating after video shows train running over pronghorn antelope herd

CP investigating after video shows train running over pronghorn antelope herd

Bullet holes from 2014 attack on Parliament Hill to be left untouched in renovations

Bullet holes from 2014 attack on Parliament Hill to be left untouched in renovations

Marc Miller, Minister of Indigenous Services, holds a news conference in Ottawa on Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2020., to announce additional funds to improve access to safe drinking water on reserves. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Boil-water advisories at First Nations communities to remain past March 2021: feds

Boil-water advisories at First Nations communities to remain past March 2021: feds

Wilner Cayo, centre, and Frantz Andre attend a demonstration outside Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's constituency office in Montreal on May 23, 2020, where they called on the government to give residency status to migrant workers as the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Canada and around the world. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
Refugee advocates criticize Canada’s decision to resume deportations during COVID-19

Refugee advocates criticize Canada’s decision to resume deportations during COVID-19

Most Read