Oct 21, 2019

U.S. considering leaving 200 troops in Syria to defend oil fields

A military convoy of U.S. forces making its way through Erbil, Iraq. Photo: Yunus Keles/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Monday during a trip to Afghanistan that the Pentagon is deliberating whether to station a “residual force” of U.S. soldiers in cities in eastern Syria to defend oil fields.

Why it matters: Stationing the residual force in a Syrian city would attach a major caveat to President Trump's pledge to stop U.S. involvement in “endless wars” in the Middle East.

What they're saying: Esper said the purpose of the force would be to "deny access, specifically revenue to ISIS and any other groups that might want to seek that revenue to enable their own malign activities."

  • However, the defense secretary said the proposal has not been presented to Trump.
  • Esper made the announcement as U.S. soldiers were arriving in eastern Iraq after withdrawing from northeastern Syria, where the Turkish military staged an offensive against Kurdish fighters earlier this month.
  • A U.S. official told the Washington Post that around 200 soldiers could secure the oil fields indefinitely.

Of note: In a tweet on Sunday, Trump quoted Esper on Syria, saying "U.S. soldiers are not in combat or ceasefire zone. We have secured the Oil." It's unknown when Esper said this.

The big picture: In addition to deterring the Islamic State, the force would also prevent Syria’s Russian- and Iranian-backed government, which is slowly recovering the territory it lost during the civil war, from reaping profits from the oil fields, a U.S. official told the Post.

Go deeper: State Department circulates talking points contradicting Trump on Syria

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U.S. troops move to eastern Syria to execute oil field protection plan

A Turkey-backed Syrian fighter looks on from a fortified position near the village of Awshariyah overlooking the Euphrates river, south of Jarabulus in the northern part of Aleppo province on Oct. 26. Photo: AAREF WATAD/Getty Images

The U.S. military has reportedly started to send troops to eastern Syria in accordance with orders from President Trump, who seeks to protect oil fields in the region, per U.S. defense officials cited by the Washington Post.

Why it matters: "U.S. officials have said that the new mission around the oil fields there will prevent the Islamic State from capturing them, but also allow the Pentagon to continue carrying out counterterrorism operations on the militant group and maintain control of the airspace overhead," the Post writes.

Go deeperArrowOct 26, 2019

Iraqi military says U.S. troops cannot stay in Iraq

A military convoy of US forces makes its way through Erbil, Iraq. Photo: Yunus Keles/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

The Iraqi military on Tuesday said U.S. troops leaving Syria and heading to neighboring Iraq do not have permission to remain in the country, the AP reports.

Why it matters: The denial contradicts U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper's Oct. 20 statement that all the nearly 1,000 U.S. troops leaving Syria will continue to fight against the Islamic State, or ISIS, from western Iraq.

Go deeperArrowOct 22, 2019

Analysts: Big energy companies won't bite on Trump's Syria oil plan

Photo: Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

ExxonMobil and other big energy companies will likely be cool to President Trump's idea of working with the U.S. to produce oil in Syria, analysts say.

Driving the news: Trump reiterated the idea and name-checked Exxon during remarks this morning on the killing of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi by U.S. forces.

Go deeperArrowOct 27, 2019