US troops, armored vehicles going to Syria oil fields: Esper

US troops, armored vehicles going to Syria oil fields: Esper

BRUSSELS-The Associated Press
US troops, armored vehicles going to Syria oil fields: Esper

The United States will send armored vehicles and combat troops into eastern Syria to keep oil fields from potentially falling into the hands of ISIL, U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said.

It was the latest sign that extracting the military from Syria is more uncertain and complicated than U.S. President Donald Trump is making it out to be.

Though Trump repeatedly says he is pulling out of Syria, the reality on the ground is different.

Adding armored 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in the oil-producing area of Syria could mean sending several hundred U.S. troops -- even as a similar number are being withdrawn from a separate mission closer to the border with Turkey where Russian forces have been filling the vacuum.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 Oct. 25, Esper described the added force as “mechanized,” which means it likely will include armored vehicles such as Bradley armored 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 armored vehicles.

Esper spoke at a news conference at NATO headquarters in Brussels, where he consulted with American allies.

Trump has ordered the withdrawal of nearly all 1,000 U.S. troops in Syria.

The withdrawal has been proceeding even as Esper announced the plan to put reinforcements in the oil-producing area.

“We are doing well in Syria, with Turkey and everybody else that we’re dealing with,” Trump said.

“We have secured the oil. ... We have a couple of people that came knocking, we said don’t knock. And I think I would say that things are going very well.”

White House officials would not clarify whom he was referring to as “knocking.”

The U.S. special envoy for Syria, James Jeffrey, said in Geneva on Oct. 25 he had talked to a Russian official about an unspecified issue in Syria’s oil region.

“We are currently very concerned about certain developments in the south, in the Deir el-Zour area,” Jeffrey said.

“I’ve talked to my Russian colleague about that and we’re having other contacts with the Russians concerning that situation. We think it is under control now.”

“Oil is secured,” Trump tweeted on Oct. 25.

“Our soldiers have left and are leaving Syria for other places, then.... COMING HOME! ... 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!”

Asked about America’s shifting Syria strategy, Esper said the U.S. mission has always been to prevent the resurgence of ISIL.

“That mission remains unchanged,” he said.

But Esper said at NATO that the U.S. is “considering how we might reposition forces in the area in order to ensure we secure the oil field.”

He added: “We are reinforcing that position. It will include some mechanized forces.”

He made clear the main purpose is to prevent ISIL from regaining access to Syrian oil, which prior to 2017 was a major source of its revenue.

Esper said ISIL must not be allowed to again threaten the oil.

“If ISIS has access to the resources, and therefore the means to procure arms or to buy fighters or whatever else they do, then it means it makes it more difficult to defeat ISIS,” he said, using another acronym for ISIL.