President Trump’s claim that US troops will remain in Syria to “protect oilfields from ISIS,” while also seizing oil from the country has raised the question of whether the US would be in violation of international pillaging laws, and subject to a potential war crimes investigation.
Following the United States’ announcement that it would pull out US troops last month, hundreds of troops have been seen leaving northern Syria. Then on Sunday, Russia’s Defense Ministry reported that a US military unit traveling along Syria’s M4 highway towards Iraq, came under fire from Turkish-backed militants.
However, a spokesperson for Central Command confirmed that “a US patrol in northeast Syria witnessed several artillery attacks,” and shells landed a kilometer or more from the road it was moving on, but the patrol was not touched.
This comes after at least 13 people were killed and 30 injured by a car bomb that exploded in northern Syria on Saturday. The site of the fatal explosion was in a border town that was seized by Turkish militants last month, and Turkey was quick to place the blame on the Kurds.
While no one has claimed responsibility for the attack, Turkey is now calling on the international community to condemn both the attack, and the Kurdish militants, which they consider to be terrorists.
The same Kurdish forces that Turkey is condemning were seen escorting US troops to an oil field in north-eastern Syria on Sunday. Following the announcement that it will withdraw US troops from Syria, President Trump then claimed it would keep some troops in the country for the purpose of guarding Syria’s oil fields from ISIS.
“But we are leaving soldiers to secure the oil. And we may have to fight for the oil. That’s okay. Maybe somebody else wants the oil, in which case they’ll have a hell of a fight,” Trump said. “But there’s massive amounts of oil and we’re securing it for a couple of reasons—number one, it stops ISIS because ISIS got tremendous wealth from that oil, and we have taken it. It’s secure.”
However, the claim that the US will be keeping the oil it guards in Syria, at a time when the Syrian government is regaining control, is raising questions about whether that plan violates international law.
Experts have pointed to the Fourth Geneva Convention, which defines “Pillaging” as a war crime that occurs through the “forcible taking of private property by an invading or conquering army from the enemy’s subjects.”
There is no indication that the Syrian government has approved the US seizing oil from the country, or that the US will be guarding the oil for the Syrian government.
When the US pulled out troops, they also handed Turkey control of around 10,000 ISIS prisoners and their families in Syria. It is believed that as many as 2,500 of those prisoners are from Europe, and Turkey had threatened to send them back to their home countries.
Turkey’s interior minister spoke out on Monday, and he said, “They are saying they should be tried where they have been caught… It is not possible to accept this. We will send back ISIS members in our hands to their own countries whether they revoke their citizenships or not.”
Turkey has repeatedly called on Europe to intervene and to help manage these prisoners, so it remains to be seen if it will follow through with this plan, or if this is just another attempt to get the international community involved in the region.