U.S. to strengthen troop presence near Syria oil fields- Pentagon chief

U.S. to strengthen troop presence near Syria oil fields- Pentagon chief
U.S. to strengthen troop presence near Syria oil fields- Pentagon chief

The United States will strengthenits military presence in Syria with "mechanized forces" to preventIslamic State fighters seizing oil fields and revenue, the U.S. DefenseSecretary said on Friday, the latest twist in President Donald Trump'sconfusing policy on Syria.

Trump has been softening hispullout plans for Syria after a backlash from Congress, including among keyRepublicans, who say he enabled a long-threatened Turkish incursion againstKurdish forces in Syria who had been America's top allies in the battle againstIslamic State.

"We are now taking someactions… to strengthen our position at Deir al zor, to ensure that we candeny ISIS access to the oil fields," Defense Secretary Mark Esper toldreporters during a press conference, using an acronym for Islamic State.

"We are reinforcing thatposition, it will include some mechanized forces," Esper said. Mechanizedforces usually include tanks and other military assets.

He did not say how many forceswere currently in the region or how many additional forces would be sent.

Any significant U.S. militarypresence on the ground would need to be properly defended from potentialattack, particularly in oil-rich areas of Syria that could become targets ofnot just Islamic State militants but potentially Russian-backed or Iran-backedforces operating in the country.

The vacuum left by Trump'spartial withdrawal has created an opening that Russia exploited by movingforces into the area. U.S. officials worry that Iran-backed forces in Syriacould also capitalize on the chaos.

Around 300 more Russian militarypolice have arrived in Syria, the Russian defence ministry said on Friday,under an accord between Ankara and Moscow which halted Turkey's militaryincursion into northeast Syria.

Amid fears that Islamic Statecould stage a comeback, Trump said on Wednesday a small number of U.S. troopswould remain in the area of Syria "where they have the oil," areference to oilfields in the Kurdish-controlled region.

On Thursday, Trump said onTwitter that the "Oil is secured" and that "our soldiers haveleft and are leaving Syria for other places."

Esper said his Turkishcounterpart had told him that Ankara had recaptured some of 100 Islamic Statemilitants who are believed to have escaped from prison in Syria as a result ofthe Turkish incursion.

Esper met Turkish DefenceMinister Hulusi Akar on Friday in Brussels during a NATO meeting. NATO alliesdiscussed Syria on Thursday, including a German proposal for a multilateralforce to patrol a safe zone in northeastern Syria.

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