Trump's peripatetic Syria policy zigzagged again over the weekend. After announcing that the U.S. would withdraw from Northern Syria, Trump changed course, announcing: "We've secured the oil, and, therefore, a small number of US troops will remain in the area where they have the oil. And we're going to be protecting it, and we'll be deciding what we're going to do with it in the future."
About 500 US Special Forces and other US personnel will deploy to the oil fields in eastern Syria. The deployment will include tank and armored units, as well as support troops. These troops will be in Syria for a while. They won’t be coming home anytime soon.
Why is Trump suddenly preoccupied with protecting Syria's oil? Why the sudden change of course regarding US troops in Syria?
Trump betrayed the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), withdrawing from observation posts and giving Erdogan a green light to invade. Trump now calls on the SDF to protect the oil.
Syrian oil has no place to go except international markets via Turkish traders and tankers operating from the Turkish port of Ceyhan. Erdogan, his family, and inner circle expect a windfall. Trump's decision to prioritize securing Syria’s oil is another gift to Erdogan.
Turkey colluded with ISIS between 2012 and 2014 to extract and smuggle Syrian oil, which represented a major revenue source for ISIS, generating $3 million/day. Turks enriched themselves from the terror trade. Berat Albayrak, President Erdogan's son-in-law was Energy Minister at the time, played a significant role coordinating oil exports from Syria. Bilal Erdogan, Erdogan's son, profited from shipping the oil from Ceyhan to international markets via his BMZ Group. Turkish middlemen with ties to Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) raked in revenue.
Columbia University's research report, "Turkey-ISIS Oil Trade", was published on 15 December 2015. Columbia is re-releasing the report, as a reminder of Turkey’s interest in Syria’s oil. Today, as before, Turks will profit at Syria’s expense. Now, however, Trump is in on the deal, steering benefits to Erdogan’s family and inner circle.
Click here to read the research report: "Turkey-ISIS Oil Trade".
David Phillips is Director of the Program on Peace-building and Rights at Columbia University’s Institute for the Study of Human Rights. He served as a Senior Adviser and Foreign Affairs Expert at the State Department during the administration of President Clinton, Bush, and Obama. His recent book is The Great Betrayal: How America Abandoned the Kurds and Lost the Middle East. His forthcoming book is Front Line Syria: A Political and Military History of the Civil War. Both books are published by Bloomsbury.