By Scott Taylor
There has been a lot of recent discussion in the U.S. about the future of American military forces in Syria. President Donald Trump has been impetuously tweeting out his desired intention to bring the Doughboys home. This sentiment has been contradicted by senior military officials who have insisted that U.S. troops will remain in Syria for the long haul - whatever that might mean.
While those pundits stuck in the weeds of partisan politics have focused on how this dichotomy of views once again pits the Donald against his top advisors, the fact is that no one is asking under what legal authority are American troops on Syrian soil?
Back in 2015 under President Barack Obama the U.S. sent in about 50 military advisors to assist in the fight against the Daesh (aka ISIS or ISIL) evildoers in Syria.
At that juncture Syria had been embroiled in a multi-factional civil war since 2011. What had originally been hailed in the west as a democratic uprising against Bashar al-Assad, Syria’s oppressive dictator, quickly became a murky muddle of disparate factions fighting for a variety of different causes.
Sunni Muslim extremist groups linked to al-Qaeda were fighting alongside Kurdish separatists in a bid to oust Assad, who in turn had cobbled together his own unlikely alliance of Alawite Shiites, Chaldean Christians, Hezbollah fighters and Iranian military advisers.
Once Daesh had morphed out of existing Sunni extremist groups in Syria they soon established themselves as not only the most effective fighting force in the region, but also the most ruthless and bloodthirsty.
In January 2014, Daesh exploded out of Syria and into Iraq’s so-called Sunni triangle, destroying the U.S. trained and equipped Iraqi security forces as they captured a swath of territory including the city of Mosul.
With Iraqi security forces defeated, and the evil Daesh horde pushing towards Baghdad, Obama felt obliged to send assistance to the embattled Iraqi regime.
In for a penny, in for a pound, once the U.S. was engaging Daesh on Iraqi soil, the first 50 American advisors were dispatched into Syria to battle Daesh there too.
This is where things get a little bit tricky. Syria has still not capitulated to the rebels. It remains to this day a sovereign state, and President Assad continues to be recognized as the legal Head of State.
Even though Daesh were technically anti-Assad forces, the U.S. troops were not sent in to fight for him, and Assad certainly did not authorize U.S. soldiers on Syrian soil.
The original number of 50 trainers has ballooned to between 2000 – 3000 Special Force Operatives who have been fighting alongside the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and Kurdish militia units.
The FSA are often described by western media as a “moderate rebel” force and their goal is to overthrow Assad. The Kurdish separatists are of course openly fighting to establish their own independent state.
If both the aims of the FSA and the U.S. backed Kurdish militia are achieved, then the Assad government would be toppled, and the Kurdish region would break away from Syria.
All of this overt U.S. military action in a sovereign foreign nation, without any clear stated American end state objective is taking place without an actual declaration of war.
In fact in all of the military interventions that the U.S. has been involved in since World War II – Korea, Vietnam, Grenada, Panama, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya etc, there have not been any actual declarations of war.
The process used instead is called an Authorized Use of Military Force (AUMF) and it is unilaterally invoked through U.S. Congress with Presidential approval. In other words, the U.S. simply grants itself the right to intervene with deadly force against any state or faction that they see fit to eliminate.
At a recent trilateral summit, the leaders of Russia, Iran and Turkey all pledged to enforce the existing sovereign boundaries and territory of Syria, as per recognized international law.
Russia and Iran are openly allied with the Assad regime, and Turkey for its part, fears that a breakaway independent Syrian territory on their southern border would only further fuel the cause of militant Kurdish separation within Turkey.
Meanwhile the American military is on the exact opposite path, pledging to keep U.S. troops in Syria to help topple Assad and create a Kurdish state.
Maybe on this occasion Trump is actually correct in saying America has no dog in this fight and its time to bring the U.S. soldiers home. Before we all end up engulfed in World War three.