Intel: Democrats try to stymie Trump’s 'secure the oil' mission in Syria

al-monitor US Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) departs following a vote to close debate on the motion to proceed to consideration of the National Defense Authorization Act in the US Capitol in Washington, June 25, 2020.  Photo by REUTERS/Al Drago.

Jun 29, 2020

Democrats are turning up the heat on President Donald Trump’s “secure the oil” mission in northeast Syria.

The House’s version of the 2021 defense authorization bill, released this weekend, would require the defense secretary to certify that no US “military forces are being used or have been used for the extraction, transport, transfer or sale of oil from Syria.”

“The committee remains concerned that the United States strategy for Syria expresses objectives that cannot be achieved with the means identified,” a report accompanying the bill states. “Furthermore, the committee is concerned about the stated purpose of US military forces serving in Syria and tasks assigned to those forces,” the report adds.

The legislation also directs Defense Secretary Mark Esper to brief Congress by October “on the applicable domestic and international legal authorities that would authorize the US military presence in oilfields in northeast Syria and to deny the government of Syria access to them.”

Why it matters:  Trump abruptly announced that he would withdraw US forces from Kurdish-held northeastern Syria last year, paving the way for a Turkish offensive. But shortly thereafter, Trump reversed course, announcing that several hundred troops would remain in Syria with a stated mission to “secure the oil.” US troops in Syria engaged in several tense standoffs with Russian forces advancing toward the oil fields earlier this year. Russia backs President Bashar al-Assad as he seeks to re-establish control over the rest of Syria.

What’s next:  The House Armed Services Committee will debate advancing its defense bill on Wednesday. The full Senate is also debating its version of the defense bill, which does not contain the House’s Syria provision. Even if the Republican-held Senate jumps on board with the Syria provision, it’s not clear whether Congress will coalesce around a final law before October, the deadline House Democrats have set for Esper to brief them on the issue.  

Know more:  Amberin Zaman has the latest on the US-backed reconciliation talks to unify the various Kurdish factions in northeast Syria.

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