US defence secretary Mark Esper has confirmed “mechanised forces” will be redeployed alongside soldiers to protect oil fields in eastern Syria. The goal, he added, was to deny Isis access to the oil fields, according to The Guardian newspaper. The US military redeployed its forces in Syria, on Wednesday November 13th, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), strengthening its presence near the oil fields.
Trump told reporters during his meeting with the Turkish president in Washington on Wednesday, that the US left troops in Syria only to secure oil facilities. Meanwhile, in a seeming contradiction, Defence Secretary Mark Esper told reporters, on the same day, at the Joint Base Lewis Mcchord in Washington, “Our mission is the enduring defeat of Isis.”
He told reporters that the US military pullback from the Kobani area in north eastern Syria near Turkey's border should take "another week or so" to complete; as the military repositions and reduces its forces in Syria. The bulk of the 1,000 US troops who had been deployed in north-east Syria at the beginning of the month would ultimately return home, Esper indicated. “All the other forces would be turned off,” he said. He added, “We’re going to have about 500 to 600-ish troops there, at the end of the day.”
SOHR monitored a video which recorded hundreds of US vehicles transferring from Qasrak area in the eastern countryside of Tal Tamr city. They were coming from the Sarin Base in Ayn al-Arab countryside (Kobani), from which the team that killed Isis former leader, al-Baghdadi, was based, and were heading towards the M4 highway. The withdrawal took place on Wednesday morning but currently there is no information about the reasons.
SOHR’s lens recorded the arrival of a large American military column on the outskirts of Qamishli city in the countryside of Hasakah, having come from Sarin Airport. It consisted of about 25 Hummer cars and armoured vehicles, accompanied by large closed trucks loaded with logistical and military equipment. The repositioning of troops began on Sunday morning, November 10th. SOHR has also monitored, over the past few days, American airplanes landing and emptying cargo planes.
Esper said the United States was still supporting the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). "We're still partnering with the SDF. We're still providing assistance to them," Esper said, stressing the SDF's role in helping prevent a resurgence of the Isis group.
Esper confirmed that once the partial US withdrawal was finished, the US military would still have roughly around 600 troops in Syria, down from about 1,000 before Trump's withdrawal order last month. Esper said he wants Turkey “back in the fold” adding that Ankara has been drifting away from Nato, referring to Turkish aggression on Syrian sovereignty defying sanctions from the EU and the US.
As US troops started to secure the oil facilities in Syria, with the collaboration of the SDF, unknown people set fire to al-Hamada oil well in the area between al-Izba station and al-Jafra field, SOHR reported citing reliable sources.
The sources pointed out that two days before setting the fire to the well, the Syria Democratic Forces and the American Forces cancelled an earlier agreement with tribal forces concerning al-Hamada well, near the al-Jafra oil field, where they regained control last April, then expelled the old guards and deployed new guards as security.
The repositioning of the US troops came a few days after President Trump officially approved a new wider United States mission to secure the whole region of oil fields across eastern Syria. Trump’s approval included building three new joint military bases with the international coalition countries to protect airspace and oil facilities in addition to “mechanised forces”, heavy artillery equipment, armoured vehicles, and warplanes to support the troops on the ground and protect airspace.
In a similar development, Russia has begun setting up a helicopter base in the north-eastern Syrian city of Qamishli, the Russian Defence Ministry's Zvezda TV channel said on Thursday November 14th, according to Reuters. The new base will be protected by surface-to-air missile systems, according to the TASS Russian news agency, and three helicopters have already been deployed there.
The US’s main new military base will be established in Qamishli in the far northeast border with Turkey.