US Joint Chiefs Chair, General Mark Milley (L) paid an unannounced visit to a US military base in Northeast Syria, March 3, 2023
It was a sudden unannounced arrival of the top US military officer General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, at a dusty American base in Syria’s remote northeast, writes M.K. Bhadrakumar, Indian Ambassador and prominent international observer.
Reuters reported, that Milley’s visit was about something else than oil, though according to eyewitness accounts, only on 27 February US troops transported at least 34 tankers filled with stolen Syrian oil through the illegal Al-Mahmoudiya border crossing to their bases in Iraq.
In the estimation of the Syrian foreign ministry, the cumulative losses incurred by the country’s oil and gas sector on account of theft and other US actions were to the tune of $107 billion as of August last year.
Milley’s visit was about — purportedly “to assess efforts to prevent a resurgence” of the Islamic State militant group and “review safeguards for American forces against attacks, including from drones flown by Iran-backed militia.” Now, that is a stretch for two reasons — one, there are only around 900 US troops all in all in Syria and Milley doesn’t have to undertake such routine mission; two, there is actually no history of the Islamic State [ISIS] having ever attacked the US forces in Syria.
On the contrary, the folklore among regional states is that the US mentors the Islamic State, gives training to the cadres of the shadowy militant group at the remote American base at Al-Tanf on the Syrian-Iraqi border, and even provides logistical support to the group’s operations in Syria’s desert region.
One plausible explanation will be that Milley came on White House instructions against the backdrop of a legislation to end the US involvement in Syria that will be up for a vote in the US Congress this week. US Congressman Matt Gaetz (Republican from Florida) who last month introduced a War Powers Resolution to direct President Joe Biden to remove the US Armed Forces from Syria has frontally attacked Milley’s visit.
Gaetz said in a statement “If General Milley wants this war so bad, he should explain what we are fighting for and why it is worth American treasure and blood. An America First foreign policy demands realism, rational thought, and seriousness.”
He pointed out that “Syria is a quagmire of a tinderbox. America has no discernible interest in continuing to fund a fight where alliances shift faster than the desert sands.”
A commentary in the government-owned ‘China Daily’ poignantly captured the Syrian tragedy: “The alleged plunder of Syrian oil by the United States and its proxies will only worsen conditions in the sanctions-hit country as it struggles to rebuild after years of war… consumption of Syria’s limited resources by the hegemonic power and its proxy groups in the troubled nation will encourage militancy and undermine efforts to stabilise the wider region.”
The Assad government’s normalisation process with the regional states in the Gulf — especially, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Qatar — as well as Egypt and Turkey has put the US in a predicament. It is particularly galling for the US that Russia is mediating the Turkish-Syrian rapprochement.
Suffice it to say that Washington is increasingly left with no option but to stir up the Syrian pot again and create turmoil with a view to create an alibi for the continued occupation of Syria. The Syrian government has drawn attention to this in a statement condemning Milley’s “illegal visit to an illegal US military base.”
Milley himself has been candid that the US military occupation must continue.
Given Milley’s professional reputation as a ‘yes’ man, who is acutely conscious of the ‘wind factor’ (as the Chinese would say) in the corridors of power in DC at any given time, it is entirely conceivable that President Biden will now get exactly the feedback and recommendation he needs to block the momentum in the US Congress for withdrawal of American troops from Syria, concludes M.K. Bhadrakumar.
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