The role of the US military in stealing Syria’s oil runs deeper than mere petty theft. The funds are used to prop up Kurdish self-rule and ensure Syria’s geographic division.
By Firas Al-SHOUFI
In July 2021, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin described the US theft of oil from the areas it occupies in eastern Syria as “bandit behavior.” The same term was previously used by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and other officials in statements denouncing Washington’s violation of Syria’s sovereignty.
The official Syrian media announces every now and then about convoys of trucks and tankers transporting oil from the east of the Euphrates region toward Iraq, under US military protection and escorted by the US-backed Kurdish militia, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).
But does the US really need to steal these small quantities of Syrian oil after its production declined from about 360,000 barrels to less than 90,000 barrels per day, using primitive extraction methods?
More than just oil
The main goal of siphoning off Syrian oil is to help the Kurdish Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES), which is protected by more than 13 US military bases, to finance its activities and cover its local fuel needs.
It also aims to preserve the area of US influence between Baghdad and Damascus, while simultaneously choke-holding the Syrian government – and deprive the largest Syrian population in the area controlled by Damascus of vital resources such as oil, gas, wheat, and medicine.
The AANES itself admitted that oil and gas revenues amounted to about 156 billion Syrian pounds ($156 million) in 2019, more than 76 percent of its total revenues in 2019. It claimed to have spent these funds on paying the salaries of its civil and military employees.
According to the co-chair of the AANES Executive Council, Abd Hamid al-Mehbash, the number of civilian employees exceeds 120,000, in addition to the military forces involved in the SDF.
However, these figures have been disputed by a Syrian government source who told The Cradle that, “Inflating the number aims to bring in more international aid from western countries, and to suggest that the administration benefits the population and improves management of the areas it controls with the support of the American occupation.”
Damascus believes that the SDF, and their US patrons, are not serious about finding a solution to the conflict and restoring the unity of Syria, despite Syrian and Russian attempts at dialogue and ongoing Turkish military pressure.
Still using the Kurds
The Syrian government source told The Cradle there is growing conviction that Washington’s intentions are to continue using Kurdish divisions and separatist goals to maintain political instability in Syria for many years to come, and to keep the country hostage to international and regional ambitions and to post-war chaos.
According to an Arab intelligence source, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), whose headquarters are based in the Qandil Mountains near the Iraq-Iran border, is in charge of the Syrian oil file, from which it secure funds to finance its military and administrative activities.
The PKK is regarded as a terrorist organization by both the US and Turkey, and is essentially the big brother of the Syrian-Kurdish People’s Defense Units (YPG) militant group.
The US army rebranded the YPG in 2015 – merging it with the newly formed SDF – in an effort to downplay the group’s PKK linkage and make it more appealing to local Arabs and Syrian minorities.
In short, Syrian oil theft operations which take place under US military cover, financially benefit a US-listed Kurdish terrorist organization.
Indeed, US Assistant Secretary of Defense Jonathan Hoffman has confirmed that the Syrian oil revenues do not belong to the US, rather to the SDF.
This US policy of “suffocation” was reinforced in the past few years with the oppressive US Congress’ “Caesar Act” – the most sweeping sanctions imposed on Damascus to date, which have had a crippling impact on Syria’s trade and economy by targeting entities and individuals who have conducted business with the country’s government-dominated sectors.
Adding to Syria’s woes has been the frequent Israeli targeting of the ports of Tartous and Latakia to impede oil exports, and the repeated attacks on Syria’s Homs refinery, which is the country’s main one for refining crude oil.
There are no accurate official reports about the production output of the oil fields under control of the SDF in eastern Syria, especially after they were severely damaged in the international coalition military operations against ISIS. It is also not possible to obtain accurate information about the SDF’s stolen oil revenues, because Syrian government employees are denied access to oil facilities.
However, the director general of the governmental Al-Jibsah oil fields in the Hasakah governorate, Ali Hassan al-Youssef, told Sputnik that US forces seize about 2,000 cubic meters (12,460 barrels) per day from the Jibsah fields, and 40,000 barrels from the Rumailan fields in Hasakah, where one of the largest oil fields is located.
Where does the oil go?
Information provided by local sources in Hasakah and Deir Ezzor confirm Syrian security and media reports on the four key destinations to which the stolen oil is transported.
The first destination is in the countryside of Deir Ezzor, in the areas controlled by the Autonomous Administration, where the largest portion of oil is consumed after being refined in primitive refineries. The price of gasoline in these areas starts from 210 Syrian pounds per liter of “subsidized” gasoline, which is of the lowest quality, and ranges – according to quality – from 410 pounds to 1250 pounds.
The second oil destination are areas occupied by Turkish forces – with the cooperation of the foreign-backed, so-called “Syrian National Army” – and Idlib, which is controlled by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS).
Crude oil is transported to these areas through several crossings, including the well-known Al-Hamran crossing, south of the city of Jarabulus (east Aleppo). The crossing was under the control of the Turkish-backed “Third Corps” militant group, which used to receive commissions in exchange for allowing the passage of oil to Idlib, before HTS recently wrested control over the area via Ahrar al-Sham militants.
The Al-Salam Company, which is affiliated with HTS, handles buying and selling operations with the Kurdish Autonomous Administration. Oil is sold in these areas at approximately 5,000 pounds per liter.
The third destination for stolen Syrian oil is Iraqi Kurdistan – via the crossings of Mahmudiyah and Semlakah – where oil is abundant. Sources on the ground say that this oil re-enters the areas under the control of the Autonomous Administration after it has been refined, to be sold at high prices.
The fourth destination, which receives the least amount of oil, are areas under the control of the Syrian government, to which about 30 to 60 tankers transport fuel every few days. Oil prices in these areas are the highest, and the price of one liter exceeds 5,000 Syrian pounds or $2.
Turkiye is also a threat to Syria’s energy security
On 30 November, Syrian Oil Minister Bassam Tohme announced that the Turkish air strikes had caused “great damage” to the country’s energy facilities, after hitting a gas plant, several oil wells, and electricity stations.
Tohme said that the bombing led to the disruption of a gas plant that produces 150 tons of domestic gas per day, and about one million cubic meters of natural gas used to supply the Hasakah governorate with electricity.
The damage sustained to oil stations and the burning of many wells “led to great environmental pollution due to tanker explosions,” he elaborated.
However, the Turkish attacks – which are conducted under the pretext of fighting the SDF – do not seem, so far, to be more than a disciplinary process to weaken the Kurdish militia’s funding sources. It is not easy to eliminate the SDF, as long as the US maintains its illegal military presence in Syria.
Even if the Turkish military operations succeed in seizing new lands from Syria, as is the case today in Idlib, Jarabulus, and the northern border strip, this policy will only exacerbate existing divisions between militants affiliated with Ankara, and those affiliated with Washington, such as the Kurdish Autonomous Administration.
So long as Syria’s natural resources are so brazenly pilfered by foreign bandits in army fatigues to fund their respective agendas for the country, Syria will remain geographically divided. It is only when these stolen funds dry up that the agendas will too.