US Defense Secretary Mark Esper has confirmed that US troops are being relocated to Syria’s oil regions and more “mechanized forces” are coming, despite previous pledges to pull out.
Just weeks ago, President Donald Trump pompously declared it was “time to bring our soldiers back home” as he announced that American forces would withdraw from Syria in the face of the then-looming Turkish offensive targeting Kurdish-led militias – Washington’s long-time allies in the fight against Islamic State (IS, former ISIS/ISIL) terrorists.
Then, he suddenly changed his mind and said that certain troops will stay, supposedly to prevent the Syrian oil fields falling into the hands of potentially resurgent terrorists that escaped Kurdish prisons in the turmoil accompanying the Turkish operation.
Now it turns out that the US will send even more troops to the area, to ensure that the oil is “totally secure.” On Friday, Esper told other NATO defense ministers in Brussels that the US is “taking some actions … to strengthen our position at Deir Ezzor, to ensure that we can deny ISIS access to the oil fields.”
He also added that the American contingent in the area would now “include some mechanized forces.” While Esper did not provide any more details on the issue, some media reports suggest that some Abrams tanks might be deployed to the area. The exact number of troops to be sent on this new mission is also still unknown.
Despite all these fluctuations in the US’s Syria strategy, Esper insists “the mission remains unchanged.” “The mission in Syria remains what the mission in Syria began,” he said, noting it’s all about defeating IS.
This directly contradicts Trump’s previous statements, on multiple occasions, that IS has been largely or entirely defeated, that the captured terrorists remain in prison and that the US mission was only supposed to last for a few months, but ended up stretching to years in an “endless war” he’s wanted to end.
Syria has previously condemned any US troop presence on its territory as an illegal foreign invasion, no different than that of IS. While the remaining scattered IS militants seem unlikely to take or even threaten an oil field, the presence of US troops will prevent the Syrian people from using it to rebuild.