Secretary of Defence Mark Esper said the Pentagon was considering sending troops and armoured vehicles to protect oil fields, controlled by Syrian Kurds, which might fall into the hands of the “Islamic State.”
At a gathering of NATO defence ministers in Brussels, Mark Esper said that the US would send reinforcements to Syria to secure oil fields, just weeks after President Donald Trump’s abrupt order to significantly scale back the US troop presence.
Though Trump repeatedly says he is pulling out of Syria, the reality on the ground is different.
“We are now taking some actions … to strengthen our position at Deir el-Zour, to ensure that we can deny ISIS access to the oil fields,” Esper said, using another common acronym for IS. “We are reinforcing that position, it will include some mechanised forces.”
Adding armoured reinforcements in the oil-producing area of Syria could mean sending several hundred U.S. troops — even as a similar number are being withdrawn from a separate mission closer to the border with Turkey where Russian forces have been filling the vacuum.
On Friday, Esper described the added force as “mechanised,” which means it likely will include armoured vehicles such as Bradley armoured infantry carriers and possibly tanks, although details were still be worked out. This reinforcement would introduce a new dimension to the U.S. military presence, which largely has been comprised of special operations forces not equipped with tanks or other armoured vehicles.
Esper spoke at a news conference at NATO headquarters in Brussels, where he consulted with American allies.
Sending an armoured force to eastern Syria would partially reverse the ongoing shrinkage of the U.S. troop presence in Syria. Trump has ordered the withdrawal of nearly all 1,000 U.S. troops who had been partnering with a Syrian Kurdish-led militia against the Islamic State group. That withdrawal is proceeding even as Esper announced the plan to put reinforcements in the oil-producing area.
Meanwhile, Trump tweets: ‘Oil is secured … COMING HOME!’
However, Esper’s comments coincided almost to the minute with a series of tweets from Donald Trump focusing far more on the US troop pullout than any potential reinforcements.
“Oil is secured. Our soldiers have left and are leaving Syria for other places, then COMING HOME!,” Trump wrote. “When these pundit fools who have called the Middle East wrong for 20 years ask what we are getting out of the deal, I simply say, THE OIL, AND WE ARE BRINGING OUR SOLDIERS BACK HOME, ISIS SECURED!”
….COMING HOME! We were supposed to be there for 30 days – That was 10 years ago. When these pundit fools who have called the Middle East wrong for 20 years ask what we are getting out of the deal, I simply say, THE OIL, AND WE ARE BRINGING OUR SOLDIERS BACK HOME, ISIS SECURED!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 25, 2019
Trump’s decision to withdraw nearly all of the 1,000 US troops stationed in Syria since 2015 — when IS’ power in the region was at its peak — was broadly seen as paving the way for NATO ally Turkey to launch military operations in the region. Turkey is a staunch opponent not just of the Assad regime in Syria, but also of many Kurdish groups who until the US betrayal had been instrumental in the defeat of ISIS in that region.
The defence chief also said today that Kurdish troops are recapturing ISIS members who escaped from Kurdish-run prisons in the northeast since the start of Turkey’s incursion into Syria.
“The SDF has assured us that all ISIS prisoners are being secured,” he said, referring to the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces.