CNN is reporting that a convoy of U.S. military vehicles entered Syria on Saturday with a mission to protect the oil.
Donald Trump said on Thursday that the United States would continue to deny ISIS the oil fields. Defense Secretary Mike Esper said only that U.S. troops were on the move.
The move comes a day after US Defense Secretary Mark Esper, speaking at NATO headquarters in Brussels, said United States forces in Syria are “now taking some actions” to strengthen their position in the Deir Ezzor region in eastern Syria to prevent ISIS from taking control of oil facilities there and that will include some “mechanized forces.”
The US was taking the action to “ensure that we can deny ISIS access to the oil fields,” Esper said. “Because we want to make sure they do not have access to the resources that may allow them to strike within the region, to strike Europe, to strike the United States.”
Trump had tweeted earlier Thursday the US would continue securing oil fields in Syria.
The Syrian oil allowed ISIS to transform into the world’s first terrorist nation-state. It was the basis for the caliphate’s economy and allowed it to buy weapons for its military and food for its citizens. That the U.S. wants to secure the oil fields is not surprising, especially since the absence of the Kurds has taken a lot of pressure off the terrorists and given them an opening to strengthen their positions. They may decide to go after the oil.
But it’s not just ISIS Washington is worried about.
Ibrahim Al-Assil, a scholar at the non-partisan think tank The Middle East Institute, also argues that Washington is likely concerned about other actors who might take control of the fields absent an American presence. “I think it’s part of the maximum pressure campaign the Trump administration has on Iran, Syria, and their allies in the region,” he says.
The oil fields could be a particularly tempting target for the Syrian government forces, controlled by Bashar al-Assad. The Assad regime is under tight economic sanctions, making it difficult for Damascus to acquire oil. And with winter quickly approaching, demand for oil will only increase.
“The U.S. administration doesn’t want the [Assad] regime to benefit from the withdrawal and be able to alleviate the economic pressure it’s going through by re-controlling the oil fields,” says Al-Assil. He adds that there’s a chance that the Kurdish forces in the area and the Assad regime, who formed an alliance of convenience to work together against Turkey after the American withdrawal, could strike a deal to return the oil fields to government control.
The Russians are not amused.
In a statement, the chief spokesman for the Russian Defence Ministry, Igor Konashenkov, noted that the US’ stated goal of protecting Syrian oil fields from Daesh* fighters could not be farther from the truth.
“What Washington does now – the capture and holding under its armed control of oil fields in Eastern Syria is, simply speaking, an international state banditism,” he said, adding that Syrian oil reserves and other mineral resources belong solely to the Syrian Arab Republic, not to Daesh terrorists or to “American protectors from Daesh terrorists”.
“Neither international law, nor the American legislation itself can justify the US troops’ goal to guard Syrian hydrocarbon reserves from Syria itself and its people,” the statement reads.
Russian bellyaching aside, it’s a good, proactive move to keep ISIS down. Denying Assad the oil is also a worthy goal, although eventually, possession of the oil fields will probably return to the Syria government.