Trump OKs wider Syria oil mission, raising legal questions

 A U.S. convoy of over a dozen vehicles was spotted driving south of the northeastern city of Qamishli, likely heading to the oil-rich Deir el-Zour area where there are oil fields, or possibly to another base nearby.
U.S. military convoy drives the he town of Qamishli, north Syria, by a poster showing Syrain President Bashar Aassad Saturday, Oct. 26. 2019.

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 defense 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 kilometers) 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.”