The United States will send armored vehicles and combat troops into eastern Syria to keep oil fields from potentially falling into the hands of Daesh terrorists, U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Friday, as Donald Trump told PKK-linked terrorists to head toward the oil region.
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.
"The Oil Fields discussed in my speech on Turkey/Kurds yesterday were held by ISIS until the United States took them over with the help of the Kurds. We will NEVER let a reconstituted ISIS have those fields!" Trump said on Twitter, using another name for Daesh.
Referring to the PKK-linked People's Protection Units (YPG) ringleader Ferhat Abdi Şahin (also known as Mazloum Kobani) Trump said it was time for the YPG to start heading to the oil region, an apparent reference to oil fields in Deir el-Zour province of Syria, as Turkey is striving to establish a 30 kilometer safe zone near the border.
On Thursday, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan urged the U.S. to extradite the aforementioned YPG leader, who is sought with an Interpol Red Notice.
Turkish and U.S. delegations reached an agreement recently to pause Turkey's counterterrorism operation in northern Syria for 120 hours, in which the PKK terrorist group's Syrian affiliate YPG was expected to withdraw from the designated safe zone area. The U.S. informed Turkey on Thursday that the terrorists have withdrawn from the designated area in line with the deal.
"One of the most significant gains by the U.S. and our partners in the fight against ISIS was gaining control of oil fields in Eastern Syria -- a crucial source of revenue for ISIS," said the official.
"The U.S. is committed to reinforcing our position, in coordination with our SDF partners, in northeast Syria with additional military assets to prevent those oil fields from falling back into the hands of ISIS or other destabilizing actors.
"We must deny ISIS this revenue stream to ensure there's no resurgence," the official added.
Another defense official told Anadolu Agency that the Pentagon has yet to determine what types of assets to deploy to the area.
Last week, Trump said he would pull back U.S. troops from northeastern Syria ahead of Turkey's anti-terror operation there, a move which sparked backlash from Capitol Hill.
On Wednesday, Trump said Washington will keep "a small number" of U.S. troops in Syria "where they have the oil."
The president did not specify where the troops would be stationed or how many he is considering but said "we're going to be protecting" the oil. "And we'll be deciding what we're going to do with it in the future."