Fahwad Al-Khadoumi (nsnbc) : After being contacted about the presence of Norwegian special forces in Southern Syria last week, the Norwegian Defense Ministry stated that it cannot disclose operational details about Norwegian special forces in Jordan. However, nsnbc received documents showing that Norway perceives its presence of forces in Syria as “self-defense” against ISIL. Norwegian special forces were reported to nsnbc after the U.S. bombing of troops allied to “the Syrian regime” in southern Syria on May 19.
On May 2o nsnbc international received information from local sources in southern Syria, reporting the presence of Norwegian special forces in the region near Al-Tanf in the Syrian, Jordanian, Iraqi border region. The report, verified by one of nsnbc international’s contacts within US special forces deployed in that region, came after military jets by the U.S.-led coalition bombed what the U.S. Defense Department describes as “Iranian controlled troops allied with the Syrian regime that posed a threat to U.S. supported militants in a de-escalation zone”.
The only so-called “pro-regime” forces that were present in the region near Al-Tanf on May 20 were, as far as nsnbc is informed, units of the Syrian Arab Army (SAA), Syrian National Self Defense Forces, militants from the Syrian Social Nationalist Party, local Druze militia, as well as some Hezbollah units. All of the above are operating in Syria with permission from the government of the Syrian Arab Republic. Syria’s UN Envoy Dr. Bashar Al-Jaafari did not specifically mention which troops had been struck by U.S.-coalition air raids but denounced the air raid as “state terrorism”.
nsnbc international contacted the Norwegian Ministry of Defense stating that “to report accurately and responsibly, could your office please answer the following questions and or make statements for publication”.
- Can your office confirm or deny above mentioned presence of Norwegian troops in Syria, in the region around Al-Tanf, Syria, located in the greater Jordanian – Syrian – Iraqi border region.
- We received the first reports about Norwegian troops in the region on Syrian territory on May 20. Have Norwegian troops been in Syria prior to that date, on or after that date?
- If so, can you send us information about 1) what type of military forces this would be – 2) Unit, division, arms category … we received reports about special forces, but that could a) be incorrect or b) covering a wide range of unspecified, possible units. Could you please be specific so we may conduct interviews etc?
- What would be the legal mandate for the deployment of Norwegian troops in Syria according to 1) Norwegian legislation, parliamentary decisions etc 2) international law, such as mandate from the UNSC, invitation from the Syrian government, “coalition of the willing” without international legal mandate?
- The date of the first reports we received about the presence of Norwegian troops coincided approximately with US air raids against what the United States Department of Defense described to our newspaper as “Syrian regime allied troops backed and controlled by Iran”.. could you comment on this please?
- What is the mission statement?
- Considering the proximity of Al-Mafraq and other staging areas for insurgents, are Norwegian troops in cooperation, liaising with any armed groups in the region. It would be extremely helpful if your office were specific; which means that “Free Syrian Army – Army of the South”, due to the extreme complexity of the theater, would not exactly be “specific”.
nsnbc received a cut and paste response from spokesperson for Norway’s armed forces, LtC Frank Sølvsberg who found it appropriate to attempt to brush off nsnbc and its questions with the following cut and pate statement:
The Norwegian military contribution is a part of Operation Inherent Resolve. Due to the security of our own forces and in accordance with the Coalition Media Policy, we will not provide details regarding the operation or other operational matters.
So much to public accountability. nsnbc Editor-in-Chief Christof Lehmann thought “not so fast LtC Sølvsberg” and replied:
We are aware that Norway deployed forces within the Inherent Resolve Framework to Jordan and Iraq, but that did not answer our question about Syria. .. Could I have a clear statement about that (and the other questions) or how would you suggest we proceed with a cooperation that takes into account your military mission and our obligation to deliver decent and objective journalism. … Alternatively, please send name, rank, mail address for a person directly in charge of the Norwegian participation in Inherent Resolve. We might have a better chance to find a feasible solution.
LtC Frank Sølvsberg responded with the following statement instead of answering “any” of the questions about the – apparently embarrassing – fact that Norwegian special forces had been spotted in Syria. Sølvsberg also appeared not to be used to snappy journalists who do their job and han on to an investigation like a terrier to a bone. Somewhat awkwardly, LtC Sølvsberg replied with ye another cut and paste reply:
Below you find links to publicly accessible information from the Norwegian MoD to answer some of your questions concerning mandate and mission. … We have a policy of not giving operational information about our special forces. This is also the case with our forces working out of Jordan. All media, domestic and international, are treated equally on this matter.
We looked at LtC Sølvsberg reply and deconstructed it, point by point. Not giving information about “operational details” for special forces is not unusual, but we asked for the name of the unit. We also asked about these trops in “Syria” and not about their absolutely legal presence in Jordan. We also asked for the foundation for their deployment to “Syria” according to Norwegian or international law. Sølvsberg did not as much as begin to answer these (and the other questions above) in his statement. So let us see what the “publicly accessible information from the Norwegian MoD” tells us.
A document from Norway’s Ministry of Defense from April 29, 2016, entitled contribution of Norwegian forces to the fight against ISIL in Syria – a memo on international law states that:
- Iraq, in 2014, had requested help from the UN Security Council to combat ISIL, including attacks by ISIL launched from Syrian territory. Moreover, it states that the Norwegian presence in Iraq today is based on the Iraqi request for help based on the UN Charter’s Article 51 on collective self defense.
- That ISIL can’t be defeated by limiting the fight to Iraq.
- That UN Security Council resolution 2249 from November 20, 2015 concludes that ISIL poses an extraordinary threat to international peace and security.
- That the UNSC called on its members to fight ISIL everywhere, including its enclaves in Syria.
- That self-defense against non-state actors who operate on the territory of another state while this state is unwilling or incapable of combating such non-state actors, is legal and covered by the provisions of UNSC resolution 2249.
The other “publicly accessible information” LtC Sølvsberg sent to nsnbc Editor-in-Chief Christof Lehmann was a press release from Norway’s Defense Ministry quoting Defense Minister Eriksen Søreide repeating the above mentioned. The third document is a memo styled to the Foreign Ministry’s Foreign Affairs Council, repeating the same arguments UNSC resolution 2249 UN Charter Article 51 and the claim of self-defense against ISIL because Syria is unwilling or incapable. The document is from January 20, 2016.
The fourth and final information LtC Sølvsdahl referred to is another press release from March 27, 2017, in which Norway’s Defense Ministry announced that it has extended its operations against ISIL.
Some questions LtC Sølvsdahl
Besides not really having answered – the Norwegian special forces have been observed on May 19, near Al-Tanf, Syria, where ISIS has no presence. Present in the area were units from the Syrian Arab Army, National Self Defense Forces, Hezbollah, Druze militia and militants from Syria’s Social National Party. Also present were U.S. special forces, Norwegian special forces, in liaison with U.S. backed militants.
As USCENTCOM’s Col Scrocca told nsnbc international editor-in-chief Christof Lehmann in an email in response to questions about the U.S. air raid:
Coalition special operations forces train and equip, advise, assist, accompany and enable two Vetted Syrian Opposition (VSO) groups to fight ISIS in the Jordan-Syria-Iraq /tri-border) area of southern Syria. The two VSO groups are the Mahhawir al Thawra (MaT) and the Shohada al-Quartayn (ShQ), two Syrian tribal groups whose homelands include the Qalamoun Mountain region, Euphrates River Valley and the Hamad Desert, which stretches from the Jordan border north along the Iraqi border to the Euphrates River.
Ironically, neither Sølvsdahl not Scrocca mentioned that ISIS has no presence in the border region, especially not in the region around Al-Tanf where the air strike was launched on May 19. nsnbc editor-in-chief Christof Lehmann commented “It’s of course embarrassing that the entire UNSC resolution 2249 and UN Charter Article 51 “self-defense” house of cards comes tumbling down because there is no ISIL in the area, so we will probably continue to ask more questions”.
F/AK & CH/L – nsnbc 29.05.2017