US President Donald Trump has reiterated the US’s lack of interest in patrolling the Syrian-Turkish border, saying the US’s main interest was in controlling the country’s oil.
“The ceasefire has held very nicely. We’ve kept the oil. We’ve stayed back and kept the oil. Other people can patrol the border of Syria, frankly, and Turkey, let them - they’ve been fighting for a thousand years, let them do the border, we don’t want to do that. We want to bring our soldiers home. But we did leave soldiers because we’re keeping the oil. I like oil. We’re keeping the oil,” Trump said, speaking to reporters on the White House lawn on Friday.
Trump said the US was working effectively with both its Kurdish and Turkish partners, and recalled the recent operation to take out former Daesh* leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, whom he called “maybe the number one terrorist for the last fifty years”. The president added that al-Baghdadi’s second-in-command had also been killed, and said that the US already has “number three in our sights”.
Russia and Turkey began join patrols in northern Syria on Friday, in line with an agreement between Presidents Putin and Erdogan last month facilitating the withdrawal of Kurdish militants to 30 km from the Turkish-Syrian border area in exchange for a halt to the Turkish military operation.
Turkey launched an invasion of northern Syria on October 9, in a stated bid to oust both Daesh terrorists and Kurdish militia, whom Ankara also classifies as terrorists, sparking outrage and condemnation from Turkey’s NATO allies. Turkey’s operation was preceded by the withdrawal of US forces from the part of northern Syria later targeted. President Trump’s critics accused the president of abandoning the US’s Syrian Kurdish allies, who played a major role in liberating northeastern Syria from Daesh between 2015 and 2017. Following the start of the Syria operation, multiple Syrian Kurdish settlements have pledged allegiance to Damascus and called on the Syrian Army to protect them.
Prior to his comments Friday, President Trump had repeatedly referred to the need to secure and hold Syria’s oil resources, with Pentagon Chief Mark Esper confirming Thursday that US troops’ mission was to “deny” the oil to Daesh and “other actors in the region”.
Trump repeatedly criticised US foreign policy during the 2016 campaign, and even during his days as a private citizen. In 2011, Trump urged the Obama administration to keep troops in Iraq and “keep the oil”. In 2016, he reiterated the need to “take the oil” in Iraq, saying the move would be “reimbursing ourselves,” and “not stealing.”
Much of Syria’s oil and gas reserves are concentrated in the country’s northeast. According to a 2011 US Energy Information Administration report, Syria’s oil output amounted to roughly 400,000 barrels a day in 2010, with about a quarter of this production sold abroad. The country was estimated to have some 2.5 billion barrels of petroleum reserves as of January 1, 2011. Syria’s proven natural gas reserves were then estimated at 8.5 trillion cubic feet, with the country consuming most of its gas output domestically at fuel power stations, and became a net gas importer in 2008. Since the start of the foreign-backed civil conflict in 2011, official exports have fallen to nearly zero. During the war, multiple parties, including Daesh and the US, engaged in the illegal smuggling of Syrian oil and its export abroad. In late 2015, Russian airstrikes eliminated over a thousand fuel trucks carrying Daesh oil out of Syria. Last week, the Russian defence ministry reported on a separate major $30 million a month oil smuggling operation being carried out by “leading American corporations” in coordination with private military contractors, US special forces and air power.
*Daesh, also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is a terrorist organisation banned in Russia and many other countries.