The U.S. military will send mechanized forces to eastern Syria to protect oil fields around Deir ez-Zor, Defense Secretary Mark Esper announced on Friday.
"We are reinforcing that position," Esper said at a news conference in Brussels. "It will include some mechanized forces. I'm not going to get into details. But the mission in Syria remains what the mission in Syria began with: It's always been about defeating the ISIS coalition."
Esper did not specify whether those forces would include M1 Abrams tanks or Bradley fighting vehicles. He also declined to say how many additional U.S. troops are headed to Syria.
President Donald Trump has repeatedly said that all U.S. troops from Syria are coming home but the U.S. military is also securing oil fields in Syria – seemingly contradicting himself.
The White House did not provide a comment for this story.
When asked how the U.S. military is squaring that circle, Esper said that U.S. troops not at the Al Tanf garrison in Syria or guarding the oil fields near Deir ez-Zor are coming home.
"We are now taking some actions – I'm not going to get into the details – to strengthen our position at Deir ez-Zor to ensure we can deny ISIS access to the oil fields because we want to make sure they don't have access to the resources that may allow them to strike within the region – to strike Europe; to strike the United States," Esper said. "Otherwise, all the other forces are intended to return home."
"If ISIS has access to the resources – and therefore the means to procure arms or buy fighters or whatever else they do – that makes it more difficult do defeat ISIS," Esper continued. "So this is all nested underneath the defeat ISIS campaign."
However, news that more U.S. forces are headed to Syria undermines the Pentagon and White House's claims that the U.S. military is withdrawing from Syria. It is also the latest twist in the U.S. government's constantly evolving narrative about what its Syria strategy is.
Initially, the White House said fewer than 50 U.S. special operations forces were being moved out of the way of Turkey's invasion of Kurdish-held Syria. Then Esper announced that all U.S. troops except those at the At Tanf garrison were withdrawing.
Esper told reporters on Oct. 19 that the U.S. troops leaving Syria were moving to western Iraq to continue the counter-ISIS mission, but the Iraqi government quickly made clear that those troops would have to leave the country within four weeks.
Deir ez-Zor itself was the scene of a 2018 battle between Russian security contractors and U.S. troops along with their Kurdish allies at the time. U.S. officials said at the time they believed the enemy force was trying to capture the oil fields.
Then-Defense Secretary James Mattis told lawmakers in April 2018 that the Russians denied that any of their troops were part of the attacking force.
"The Russian high command in Syria assured us it was not their people, and my direction to the chairman was for the force, then, to be annihilated," Mattis told the Senate Armed Services Committee. "And it was."
We now go live to the White House situation room:
A very familiar scene from "Chapelle's Show"