Last weekend, Mid-Eastern sources claimed Norwegian soldiers had entered Syria from Iraq’s Anbar province. This was neither confirmed nor refuted by Norwegian defense officials.
The Arab website AMN quoted Iraqi officer Shakir Abid, who claimed the Iraqi government had allowed the Norwegian soldiers to cross the country’s border, the idea being that the Norwegians should join the American and British forces already in Syria against the will of Syrian authorities.
Also NRT News from Iraqi Kurdistan reported that Norwegian forces were in Syria, quoting Shakir Abid who claimed that the Norwegians had been tasked with the protection of the Syrian side of al-Tanf border crossing.
The Norwegian Ministry of Defense would neither confirm nor reject this claim, which prompted Geir Ulfstein, a professor of Justice at the University of Oslo, into demanding clarification from the Norwegian government to dissolve allegations of the breach of international law, the Norwegian daily Dagbladet reported.
“The Norwegian forces are part of Operation Inherent Resolve. For the sake of the security of our own troops and in accordance with the coalition’s media policy, we will neither provide the details of the operation nor any other information of the operational nature,” Defense Ministry press officer Ann Kristin Salbuvik said.
Defense Minister Ine Eriksen Søreide claimed the right to self-defense, “as stated in Article 51 in the UN Covenant,” to be the only valid reason for sending soldiers to Syria in an email to Dagbladet. However, her statement did not help disperse the clouds of doubt around Norway’s alleged presence in Syria.
According to Arne Overrein, a professor of philosophy from the University of Arctic Studies and the author the book “The Fight for International Law,” it is more than doubtful that Norwegian soldiers have entered Syria.
“According to international law, one should not participate directly or indirectly in an internal conflict in another country. Norway is formally in the area to train people fighting against Daesh, but these happen also to be the people who fight President Bashar al-Assad. In this case Norway is involved in what is basically a civil war and supports rebels against a regime we still recognize politically,” Arne Overrein told the Norwegian newspaper Klassekampen, alluding to the fact that Norway has not severed diplomatic ties with Syria. Overrein added also that it would imply a risk of escalating the conflict.
About 60 Norwegian soldiers are currently involved in training Iraqi government forces in Anbar province, but according to Ine Eriksen Søreide do not participate in combat. Another 60 Norwegian soldiers are stationed in Jordan as part of the US-led coalition against Daesh, where they train and assist Syrian rebels with advice and operational support. The Norwegian Defense Ministry would not divulge what exactly militia groups benefit from the training. In June 2016, the Norwegian government green-lit the potential dispatch of Norwegian troops to Syria, which was opposed by the Progress Party, the Center Party and the Socialist Left Party.