The additional forces will help “prevent the oil fields from falling back into the hands of ISIS or other destabilizing actors,” one U.S. defense official said.
“We will not discuss details or timelines of those forces for security reasons,” the official added.
News photographers in the region captured images showing a convoy of about a dozen Army vehicles rolling passed oil pumps through the Syrian city of Qamishli, many with American flags flying on them. The majority of the vehicles were mine-resistant armored vehicles, with a few civilian trucks mixed in.
The move is the latest in a whirlwind month for the Pentagon in Syria that began with Turkey telling the United States that it would launch an offensive against Kurdish parts of northern Syria. The White House announced Oct. 6 that it would not stand in the way despite years of the Pentagon partnering with Syrian Kurds on operations against the Islamic State.
Trump decided late Oct. 13 to withdraw virtually all 1,000 troops from northern Syria, as the SDF reached an agreement with the Syrian regime for protection and American troops began withdrawing. U.S. forces rapidly withdrew from several bases afterward, leaving behind some equipment and even using F-15 jets to bomb one of their former headquarters to render it unusable by anyone else.
But Trump was convinced to move some U.S. troops back into a section of eastern Syria stretching from Hasakah south to Deir al-Zour, farther from the border with Turkey. U.S. officials have said that the new mission around the oil fields there will prevent the Islamic State from capturing them, but also allow the Pentagon to continue carrying out counter-terrorism operations on the militant group and maintain control of the airspace overhead.
In Moscow, Russia’s Defense Ministry denounced the U.S. troop movements into eastern Syria o Saturday. Earlier this week, Russia added about 300 military police to its contingent in Syria to help patrol a region along the Turkish border.
“What Washington is doing now, the seizure and control of oil fields in eastern Syria under its armed control, is, quite simply, international state banditry,” said Defense Ministry spokesman, Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov, according to media reports.
Brian Murphy in Washington contributed to this report.