The abandonment of the Syrian Kurds and the light US response to the Turkish invasion of northern Syria surprised many analysts. Many spoke for America’s geopolitical collapse, others for America’s defeat by Russia, while a lot have found financial incentives behind the actions of the Trump administration that are damaging American interests.
The truth is somewhat different. The US has a strategy and it focuses on securing financial resources, regardless of whether any allies or partners will be abandoned as a result.
Syria is not a member of the Middle Eastern oil producing club. It has few deposits, most of which are located in the northern amd eastern part of the hinterland and especially in the province of Al-Hassaqah. The al-Suwaida deposit is one of the largest in the country and is on the border with Turkey and Iraq (northeast). At the same time, it is in areas where the Kurds have control from time to time. The other deposit and the biggest one named al- Omar is the one in the province mentioned above, near the town of Deir al Zor on the border with Iraq. At the same time, close to all the above there is the significant Conoco gas deposit.
The United States, therefore, as the situation has been shaped, has partially abandoned the Kurds by not deterring or obstructing the Turkish advance and has created a rapid reaction motorized force that will be deployed around the energy fields to secure them. With regard to the al-Suwaida deposit, things were quite easy, since the Kurds who owned it gave it to the Americans. In al-Omar, however, the United States and the Kurds were forced to fight against the Islamic State that possessed it. Eventually, after fierce bombings and fierce battles, the field was captured before the Syrian governmental army arrived. The latter occupied parts of the surrounding area and propably secured the Conoco deposit. The US, in turn, bombed what could have facilitated the deployment of regime forces.
Amid rumors that US forces wanted to completely leave Syria, the US president’s statement which came in early October, declared that a small military force would remain in the oilfields. This is the motorized unit mentioned above. Of course, this new statement has triggered a variety of reactions, but it is indicative of US strategy.
The American targets
Initially, with its moves, the US did not completely abandon Syria nor leave it to the Russians. They are barred from a battle that they would hardly win on the field, but leave enough forces in the most neuralgic areas of the Arab country. This way, the US military presence does not cease and the Americans have bases to control the situation. The fact that they are developing mobile units, enables them to move around easily. At the military level, the objectives have been achieved.
Economically, military presence in energy fields means safeguarding financial interests. Oil has not completely lost its value, and post-war Syria will be in the need of investments. In the eastern provinces, US multinational companies can invest, taking advantage of the wealth provided. So the US makes obvious its presence in the Middle East.
The US control of northeastern Syria also serves its interests in relation to third parties and in particular competitors. On the one hand, it deprives Russia of possession of a significant portion of its wealth. On the other hand, it also deprives them of the hostile Assad government. At the same time, it is able to control both the Kurds and the Turks (see the geographical location of the province of al-Hassaqah on the map). Also, the proximity of US-occupied territories to Iraq allows the direct intervention and surveillance of the Arab country, especially now that Iranian influence has grown sharply. Consequently, the United States is also guaranteed by the international competition for the said deposits.
The United States has a clear strategy. This can be summarized in the avoidance of frontal clashes with Turkey (an ally), the partial abandonment of other allies (Kurds) if conditions require it, the avoidance of engaging in a multilateral struggle within Syria and bearing the costs of it, controlling the other actors and deterring the foreign domination. But most of all, American design is about securing financial resources. By achieving this goal, the US will remain in Syria. It did not intend to abandon it and do not seem to want it in the future.