The United States could send up to 14,000 more troops to the Middle East in a surge that would double the number of service members dispatched to the region since May as part of a showdown with Iran, the Wall Street Journal reported on Wednesday.
Reporters Gordon Lubold and Nancy Youssef first brought to light that President Donald Trump could decide later this month whether to send more troops and ships to deter Iran. The president could ultimately approve a smaller deployment to the region.
Top defense officials tried to convince reporters on Thursday that the U.S. military's mission to protect oil fields in eastern Syria isn't just about the oil.
"The mission is the defeat of ISIS," said Navy Rear Adm. William Byrne, Jr., vice director of the Joint Staff. "The securing of the oil fields is a subordinate task to that mission. The purpose of that task is to deny ISIS the revenues from that oil infrastructure."
The convoy of U.S. armored vehicles headed east, Stars and Stripes flapping in the wind as it lumbered toward its apparent destination — the oil fields of Rumeilan, in Syria's far northeast.
There, pump jacks line both sides of the road, churning up and down. Smoke from small refineries rises into the sky and fires shoot from natural gas outlets. Electrical lines dot the landscape and tankers plod up and down the pothole-racked highway.
They're the tattered vestiges of Syria's long-crippled oil industry, which has become the latest justification for President Trump's on-again, off-again policy to keep a U.S. presence in the country's northeast.
"We want to bring our soldiers home. But we did leave soldiers because we're keeping the oil," said Trump on Friday, before adding, "I like oil. We're keeping the oil."
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."