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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

Go deeper

Updated 4 hours ago - Sports

The potential GOAT of chess faces intriguing challenger

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The World Chess Championship between Norway's Magnus Carlsen and Russia's Ian Nepomniachtchi began on Friday, 1,094 days after Carlsen won his fourth consecutive title.

Why it matters: During the long, COVID-fueled layoff, chess entered a new era, and with the championship finally here, the age-old game is ready for its close-up.

Department of Interior proposes raising cost of drilling on public lands

A horizontal drilling rig and a pump jack sit on federal land in Lea County, New Mexico. Photo: Callaghan O'Hare/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Oil and gas companies should pay more to drill on federal lands and waters, the Department of the Interior argued in a report released Friday, saying that the current rates were "outdated."

Driving the news: The Department of Interior report said that the federal government's oil and gas leasing and permitting program "fails to provide a fair return to taxpayers, even before factoring in the resulting climate-related costs that must be borne by taxpayers."

6 hours ago - Health

U.S. to restrict air travel from 8 countries over new COVID variant concerns

A COVID-19 vaccine is administered. Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

The U.S. will impose new air travel restrictions in response to the Omicron variant, a new COVID strain first detected in South Africa, President Biden announced Friday.

The big picture: Air travel from South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique and Malawi will be restricted starting on Monday.