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Trump admin. says US forces can stay in Syria without Congress authorization

American Special Forces soldiers scanned the area at a front line outpost outside the northern Syrian city of Manbij this month. (Photo by The New York Times)

The administration of US President Donald Trump says it needs no legal authorization from Congress to indefinitely keep American military forces deployed in Syria and Iraq, even in territories that have been cleared of terrorist fighters, according to two newly published letters written by the Pentagon and State Department.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had hinted the plan in a speech last month, saying that US troops would be in Syria to contain Iran and Russia who are fighting Daesh terrorists in Syria, and also to prevent the Syrian government from taking-back terrorist-held areas of the country.

Democrat Senator Tim Kaine to whom the letters were addressed sharply criticized the administration’s reasoning and said in a statement that Trump risks “acting like a king by unilaterally starting a war.”

The deputy undersecretary of defense for policy, David Trachtenberg, wrote the letters to Kaine, who had inquired the Trump administration to explain its understanding of its authority to stay on in Syria.

Borrowing arguments first advanced by the Obama administration, the State Department also sent the Virginia senator a similar letter, which claimed that international law provided a basis for American forces to remain in Syria — despite the lack of consent from the Syrian government — to protect Iraq and the US from terrorists.

Kaine, who has tried for years to get his colleagues to debate and vote on authorizing the war against Daesh terrorists, warned in January that the US mission in Syria was evolving and risked putting American forces on a collision course with Syrian government troops and their Russian supporters.

The US and its allies have been bombarding what they call Daesh positions inside Syria since September 2014 without any authorization from the Damascus government or a UN mandate. 

The strikes, however, have on many occasions resulted in deaths of pro-government forces and civilian casualties, failing to fulfill their declared aim of countering terrorism.

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