On October 28th, US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper and US Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley gave a press conference on the situation in Syria, following the claim that ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi had been killed two days earlier.
The full transcript of the press conference can be found on the US Department of Defense website.
Esper began by saying that despite al-Baghdadi being allegedly dead, the situation in Syria remained tense.
His phrasing regarding the recent “withdrawal” of US troops from northern Syria was notable, as he didn’t use the word at all, he said “repositioning.”
“Our recent repositioning of forces within the country is intended to posture us to continue this mission and give the president options, while returning the balance back home to the United States. Those who remain will continue to execute counterterrorism operations, while staying in close contact with the Syrian Democratic Forces who have fought alongside us.”
He then said that US troops, as well as the SDF would remain in northeast Syria protecting the occupied Syrian oil fields.
“Additionally, the United States will retain control of oil fields in northeast Syria. At the height of Baghdadi’s reign, these oil fields provided ISIS with the bulk of financial resources used to fund its terror. U.S. troops will remain positioned in this strategic area to deny ISIS access to those vital resources, and we will respond with overwhelming military force against any group that threatens the safety of our forces there.”
Not only ISIS, but any group at all would be met with “overwhelming force.”
Additionally, “these oil fields also provide a critical source of funding for the SDF, which enables their ability to secure ISIS’ prison camps and conduct operations against ISIS, among other things.”
Thus, if Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government and forces, and the Syrian population hoped to use their country’s oil fields to fund the possible reconstruction of their country, they’re fresh out of luck.
Mark Esper, further said that the repositioning also included the deployment of reinforcements in Deir ez-Zor, including mechanized forces and others.
It is not only a “repositioning,” but there would be even more forces deployed to secure the oilfields.
“We have begun deploying and repositioning additional assets into the vicinity of Deir ez-Zor. As I said the other day, it includes mechanized forces and other types of forces. That will continue until we believe we have sufficient capability to ensure ISIS and other destabilizing actors are denied access to that oil facility.”
Answering a question whether it would mean that the oilfields would also be potentially protected against Syrian and/or Russian Armed Forces, both Milley and Esper confirmed.
Milley had the following to say:
“We’ll continue to do that, and to secure the Conoco oil fields in and around Deir ez-Zor. That is in the vicinity of the Middle Euphrates River Valley that you’re familiar with, and the fundamental purpose of securing those oil fields is to deny those oil fields access to ISIS in order to prevent ISIS from resurgence, because we are still committed to the counter-ISIS campaign, and we don’t want them to resurge. They get a lot of their revenues from that.”
Esper was more specific about the “end state” of the region, and the current objectives:
“Barbara Starr: My specific question is within — what do you want to do in the oil fields, does that include denying access, preventing Russian or Syrian forces, which now have changed the battle-space?
Mark Esper: So the short answer is yes, it presently does, because in that case we want to make sure that SDF does have access to the resources in order to guard the prisons, in order to arm their own troops, in order to assist us with the Defeat-ISIS mission. So that’s our mission, is to secure the oil fields.”
Additional attempts to question that Russia and “the regime” may request access to the oilfields and be met with “overwhelming force” were denied.
Trump’s recent statements regarding the situation in Syria were confirmed by Esper and Milley, the oilfields need to be secured. He said that US troops would be pulled back from Syria, but clearly that’s not happening, yet again.
….COMING HOME! We were supposed to be there for 30 days – That was 10 years ago. When these pundit fools who have called the Middle East wrong for 20 years ask what we are getting out of the deal, I simply say, THE OIL, AND WE ARE BRINGING OUR SOLDIERS BACK HOME, ISIS SECURED!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 25, 2019
Two days earlier, he said that the oilfields were secured and US troops would remain, during a press conference.
“We’ve secured the oil and, therefore, a small number of U.S. troops will remain in the area where they have the oil,” Trump said. “And we’re going to be protecting it, and we’ll be deciding what we’re going to do with it in the future.”
Russian Defense Ministry spokesperson Major General Igor Konashenkov called the US oilfield operation “state-sponsored banditry,” and accused Washington of leaving its forces there to help oil smugglers pillage Syria’s national resources. The ministry published aerial images on October 26th, that it claimed show crude oil being smuggled out of the country “under the strong protection of the US.”
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