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Published On: Fri, Aug 11th, 2017

Syrian Army’s success along Jordanian border prompts further questions about presence of US – Norwegian special forces

Christof Lehmann (nsnbc) : The Syrian Arab Army (SAA) and allied forces regained control over some 1,300 square kilometers along the Syrian – Jordanian border and the Iraq – Syria – Jordan tri-border region. The SAA’s progress in the fight against Islamic State in the region prompts further questions about the purported “legality” of the presence of, among others, US and Norwegian special operations forces in the area.

Syria_SAA in Sweida_2017_(archives)The Syrian Arab Army has, according to official Syrian sources, regained control over 1,300 square kilometers as well as all security points located along the Syrian – Jordanian border in the eastern countryside of Sweida, after eliminating the presence of Islamic State (ISIS – ISIL – Daesh) fighters there. SAA unites in cooperation with “supporting forces” reportedly achieved victories against ISIS terrorists in al-Zalf dam area, and established control over 1300 square kilometers and a number of strategic heights, including the hills of al-Tabaqa, al-Riyahi, Assada , al-Ezami and Bir al-Sout and Abu Sharshouh crossing in the eastern countryside of Sweida province.

The operations resulted in establishing control over all the security points located along the Syrian – Jordanian border for a length of more than 30 kilometers. Operations were launched to secure the area and search it for improvised explosive devices and other hazards left behind by ISIS fighters.

Syrian Arab Army and allied units, backed by Air Forces, also launched intensive strikes against ISIS positions and movements in Syria’s eastern, oil-rich Deir Ez-Zor province and the city of Deir Ez-Zor. Official Syrian sources also report about ongoing clashes between SAA units and ISIS in the surroundings of the Deir Ez-Zor Airport at the southern axis of the city. Air force and artillery reportedly  carried out intensive operations against sites and fortifications for ISIS terrorists in the areas of al-Mawared , al-Banorama, al-Thurdeh, Thurdeh junction , the surroundings of the Airport, al-Rishdieh and al-Hweiqeh neighborhoods and the villages of al-Boughailieh , al-Tabani and al-Qasabi.

The successes of the Syrian Arab Army and allied forces in the Iraq – Syria – Jordan tri-border region, and especially along the Syrian – Jordanian border in Sweida province prompts renewed questions about the purported “legality” of the presence of special operations forces from the United States, Norway and others there.

Having no “direct” mandate from the UN Security Council (UNSC) and operating in Syria without a mandate from the government of the Syrian Arab Republic, the United States, Norway, and others argue that the presence of the forces there is legal because ISIS poses an international threat that the Syrian state is incapable of controlling.

One may have a look at the Norwegian claim to legality as representative, also for claims made by the USA.  In June 2016 this author asked Norwegian LtC Sølvsberg about the presence of Norwegian special forces in the region around al-Tanf during the incident on May 18. LtC Sølvsberg referred to a number of official Norwegian statements for clarification.

We looked at LtC Sølvsberg reply. 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 this author 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.

Regression to lawlessness under UN cover? Who’s next?

The position is interesting – and potentially dangerous – It suggests that social constructionism and positioning with regard to international law and UNSC resolutions has led to a situation where an “anything goes” and “utilitarianism based on positioning” led to actual lawlessness or disregard for the intended function of laws.

If applied, any UN member could “join any coalition against international terrorism” based on “any relevant UNSC resolution” to then invade “any country where a covered terrorist organization has a presence”, claiming that “the government and military of that country is unwilling or incapable of fighting this international threat”, and claiming that such an aggression constitutes “self-defense under the UN Charter’s Article 51″.

Col Joseph Srocca, USCENTCOM (archives)

Col Joseph Srocca, USCENTCOM (archives)

Provided that this interpretation has standing or is allowed to stand, the inevitable question is “who’s next” on the list? Pakistan – because Taliban and ISIS is present there, in this nuclear-armed country? Afghanistan – even if it decides to ask foreign militaries to leave? The Philippines – because of the ISIS insurgency in Mindanao? The United Kingdom – because it can’t stop alleged ISIS attacks in Manchester and London? Iran – after the alleged ISIS attack on the parliament in Tehran on June 7, 2017? In fairness, Scrocca and his office referred to the US Department of Defense for clarification because he is concerned with operational rather than with political details.

Progress made by the Syrian Arab Army in areas previously controlled by the Islamic State, certainly, prompt renewed questions about the purported “legality” of US or Norwegian special operations forces in the tri-border region. In areas where ISIS has no presence, it cannot pose that “international threat that the Syrian Arab Republic” allegedly “cannot bring under control”.

CH/L – nsnbc 11.08.2017

About the Author

- Dr. Christof Lehmann is the founder and editor of nsnbc. He is a psychologist and former independent political consultant on conflict, conflict resolution and a wide range of other political issues. In March 2013 he established nsnbc as a daily, independent, international on-line newspaper. He can be contacted at nsnbc international at

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  1. Jim Scott says:

    Norway say they have military in Syria but cannot u derstand that ISIS is in Norway because because Norway was in Syria and Libya.

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