Secretary of Defense Mark Esper suggested a small number of United States forces may stay in Syria after President Donald Trump announced the U.S. military withdrawal from the war-torn country.
Esper said a small force is currently in Syria to prevent terrorists from gaining access to oil.
“We have troops in towns in northeast Syria that are located next to the oil fields, the troops in those towns are not in the present phase of withdrawal,” Esper told reporters in Kabul, Afghanistan.
“The purpose is to deny access, specifically revenue to ISIS and any other groups that may want to seek that revenue to enable their own malign activities.”
Officials have discussed keeping a limited number of troops in Syria but, according to Esper, “there has been no decision with regard to numbers of anything like that.”
Trump told reporters in Washington that a small number of troops are in southern Syria near Jordan at the request of Jordan and Israel.
Asked if the United States would leave any troops in Syria, Trump said he didn’t think so.
“I don’t want to leave any troops there. That’s very dangerous territory. You know, we have 28 troops as it turned out. They said 50, it was 28. And you have an army on both sides of those troops. Those troops would have been wiped out. I don’t think it’s necessary other than we secure the oil. It’s a little different section, but we need to secure the oil,” he said.
“And the other region where we’ve been asked by Israel and Jordan to leave a small number of troops is a totally different section of Syria, near Jordan, and close to Israel. And that’s a totally different section. That’s a totally different mindset. So we have a small group there, and we secured the oil. Other than that, there’s no reason for it, in our opinion.”
Trump’s announcement of withdrawing from Syria earlier this month prompted criticism from some Democrats and Republicans, but he said he’s devoted to getting America out of “endless wars.”
Esper told reporters over the weekend that the troops leaving Syria would be assigned to western Iraq.
“The U.S. withdrawal continues apace from northeastern Syria … we’re talking weeks not days,” Esper told reporters, referring to the 1,000 U.S. troops that were pulled back from northern Syria.
“The current game plan is for those forces to re-position into western Iraq,” Esper said, adding that the move would “help defend Iraq” while countering ISIS.