Pentagon chief: 'Mechanized forces' to protect Syrian oil fields

Pentagon chief: 'Mechanized forces' to protect Syrian oil fields
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Defense Secretary Mark EsperMark EsperOvernight Defense: Book says Trump called military leaders 'dopes and babies' | House reinvites Pompeo for Iran hearing | Dems urge Esper to reject border wall funding request Senate Dems urge Esper to oppose shifting Pentagon money to border wall Overnight Defense: GAO finds administration broke law by withholding Ukraine aid | Senate opens Trump trial | Pentagon to resume training Saudi students soon MORE on Friday confirmed that the United States will send some “mechanized” reinforcements into eastern Syria to protect against possible attacks by ISIS fighters on oil fields held by U.S. partner forces.

“The United States will maintain a reduced presence in Syria to deny ISIS access to oil revenue as we reposition for the next phase of the defeat ISIS campaign,” Esper said at a NATO defense meeting in Brussels.

Esper said that the military is “considering how we might reposition forces in the area in order to ensure we secure the oil field,” currently held by Syrian Kurdish fighters, and is working to “strengthen our position” at Deir Ezzoir. He added that the reinforcements “will include some mechanized forces.”

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He would not go into details as to the number of troops to be sent, but a mechanized force would likely include tanks and other combat vehicles and several hundred more military personnel. The U.S. presence in Syria up until this point has not included such equipment.

The decision would also mean the Trump administration has backtracked on President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump's newest Russia adviser, Andrew Peek, leaves post: report Hawley expects McConnell's final impeachment resolution to give White House defense ability to motion to dismiss Trump rips New York City sea wall: 'Costly, foolish' and 'environmentally unfriendly idea' MORE's decision earlier this month to pull almost all of the 1,000 U.S. troops out of northern Syria, paving the way for Turkey's invasion into the country.

Lawmakers, including Republicans who fiercely back Trump, have slammed the move as upending the security of the region, potentially allowing the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria to resurge and abandoning the Kurds, who helped the United States fight the terrorist group. 

The withdrawal is still happening, even as the Pentagon chief revealed the plans to send forces near the Syrian oil fields.

Trump, meanwhile, wrote on Twitter on Friday that U.S. troops would be returning to the United States and claimed that the U.S. military mission in Syria is finished.

Esper also told reporters that U.S. mission in Syria has always been to prevent the reemergence of ISIS and that “remains unchanged.”

“If ISIS has access to the [oil], 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.

The comments mark a rapidly shifting U.S. strategy in Syria following Trump’s announcement that all troops in the country would return stateside.

The president then allowed this week that he would agree to keep 200 troops at the Al-Tanf garrison in the nation’s south.

The Pentagon also released a statement Thursday that said it was “committed to reinforcing our position” in northeast Syria “with additional military assets to prevent those oil fields from falling back to into the hands of ISIS or other destabilizing actors.”