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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 problem is, there isn't much oil to keep.
AMMAN, Jordan — Foreign recruits of ISIS, eager to migrate to the territory the militant group had carved out in Iraq and Syria, would prepare their staples — a phone, a solar charger, a few garments — before buying round-trip plane tickets (the better to avoid suspicion).
Their destination? Almost always Turkey.
Once having landed there, they continued on to towns dotting the 566-mile border Turkey shares with Syria, crossing over for a new life among those who shared their fanatical vision.
It was just one of the ways that Turkey was the conduit for all things extremist. Turkey was where ISIS acquired food and other essentials, found medical treatment for injured fighters, and even got the fertilizer needed to make car bombs.
MOSUL, Iraq — It was after dark Wednesday when three buses pulled out of Mosul and headed southeast on a desolate desert road. The passengers were government-backed paramilitary fighters.
The city lights were well behind them when the convoy came under attack. By the time the shooting stopped, six paramilitary members were dead and 31 wounded.
Iraqi authorities quickly identified the culprit: Islamic State.
The attack, one of the deadliest since Iraq declared military victory over the extremist group in December 2017, was the clearest sign yet that the war isn't over.
When President Trump spoke of Islamic State last week, he described the group as all but defeated, even in the digital realm.
"For a period of time, they used the internet better than we did. They used the internet brilliantly, but now it's not so brilliant," the president said. "And now the people on the internet that used to look up to them and say how wonderful and brilliant they are are not thinking of them as being so brilliant."
AMMAN, Jordan — A U.S.-backed militia has sent trucks to the edge of Islamic State's dwindling territory in eastern Syria to evacuate hundreds of civilians as well as surrendering fighters, many of them foreign-born, commanders said Tuesday.
AMMAN, Jordan — Syrian army units on Friday were reported to have entered Manbij, a Kurdish-controlled city that has become a major flashpoint in the country's civil war and an operating base for hundreds of U.S. troops.
The government's entry came at the request of Kurdish militias, who were concerned about the imminent threat of attack by Turkey in the wake of President Donald Trump's abrupt order last week to withdraw all U.S. troops from Syria.