Russia Says American Forces Not in Syria Legally as U.S. Admits Error on UN Mandate Claim

Russia reiterated its criticism of the presence of American troops in Syria by disputing a U.S. military statement on Twitter saying that they were there under international law as mandated by a UN Security Council resolution.

Wayne Marotto, the spokesman for Operation Inherent Resolve, the U.S-led campaign against ISIS in the Middle East including Syria, told Newsweek that his tweet about the resolution contained an error and that the presence of U.S. troops in Syria was in fact "pursuant to Article 51 of the UN Charter."

Syria is a key area of foreign policy tension between Russia and the U.S. On Monday, the Russian embassy in Washington, DC, shared a screenshot of a tweet by Marotto that said that U.S. forces were in the northeast of Syria "under international law - UN Security Council Resolution 2254 adopted December 2015."

"The @CJTFOIR mission remains the same in NE Syria—with our partner force the #SDF—defeat Daesh, its remnants & ensure its enduring defeat."

.@OIRSpox, it's a matter of fact that 🇺🇸 armed forces have no legal mandate to stay in 🇸🇾. Your interpretation of UNSCR 2254 is just ridiculous. Please, read the document thoroughly.
👇
🔗https://t.co/vllbM9jXuw pic.twitter.com/d21hebSWm7

— Russian Embassy in USA 🇷🇺 (@RusEmbUSA) August 9, 2021

However, in its message alongside the screenshot of Marotto's tweet, the Russian embassy said: "@OIRSpox, it's a matter of fact that armed forces have no legal mandate to stay in. Your interpretation of UNSCR 2254 is just ridiculous. Please, read the document thoroughly."

It added a link to the resolution adopted on December 18, 2015, which calls for an end to attacks against civilian targets, but allows offensives against terrorist groups such as ISIS.

The resolution also states "the only sustainable solution to the current crisis in Syria is through an inclusive and Syrian-led political process that meets the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people."

When contacted by Newsweek, Marotto said in an emailed statement: "I was advised by military lawyers that as a matter of international law, the U.S. Forces are in Syria to conduct defeat-ISIS activities in national self-defense pursuant to Article 51 of the UN Charter.

"I therefore deleted that portion of the tweet which said otherwise to not create unnecessary confusion. We regret the error," he added.

The U.S. military has operated inside Syria to help Kurdish and Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) fighting ISIS in the north and the east of the country.

Moscow, which helped Syrian President Bashar al-Assad gain the upper hand in his country's civil war, has repeatedly insisted that the U.S. military presence in Syria is illegal.

In May, Moscow took a swipe at a Pentagon report that accused Russian troops of violating "deconfliction processes" in the northeast of Syria even if they didn't pose a threat to coalition forces.

In response, the Russian embassy in the U.S. tweeted that the "U.S. does not have any right to criticize the legitimate actions of the Russian Armed Forces," who were in Syria "on the invitation of the Syrian government." It added that unlike Russian troops, the U.S. "military presence in Syria is illegal in the first place."

U.S. Soldier in Syria
A U.S. soldier during a patrol near the Rumaylan (Rmeilan) oil wells in Syria's northeastern Hasakeh province on June 22, 2021. Russia has reiterated its criticism of the presence of U.S. troops in Syria. DELIL SOULEIMAN/Getty