BRUSSELS (AP) — The U.S. will send armored reinforcements into eastern Syria to bolster defenses against a potential move by Islamic State militants on oil fields controlled by U.S.-backed Syrian Kurds, U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Friday.
Esper described the added force as “mechanized,” which would likely means it will include tanks and other combat vehicles such as Bradley armored infantry carriers. This 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.
It also would partially reverse the ongoing shrinkage of the U.S. troop presence in Syria. President Donald 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.
Although Esper did not mention the size of the U.S. reinforcements, it could total several hundred troops because fuel-guzzling tanks and other armored vehicles depend on a large supply and logistical support group.
Esper’s announcement came even as Trump again indicated in tweets that the U.S. military mission in Syria is completed. He previously has acknowledged a willingness to help protect the oil fields in eastern Syria, suggesting they could benefit the Kurds as well as the U.S., although those resources belong to the Syrian government.
“Oil is secured,” Trump tweeted Friday. “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 IS. “That mission remains unchanged,” he said.
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