The United States will station additional forces in eastern Syria to protect oilfields in another policy shift that one former senior American official called a “shocking ignorance” of history and geography.
The planned reinforcement will take place in coordination with the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) to prevent the oilfields from falling into the hands of Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS), a Pentagon statement said.
“The US is committed to reinforcing our position, in coordination with our SDF partners, in northeast Syria with additional military assets to prevent those oilfields from falling back into the hands of ISIS or other destabilising actors,” it added.
Earlier on Thursday, US President Donald Trump said on social media the US “will never let a reconstituted ISIS have those fields”.
The latest announcement, however, contradicts Trump’s controversial decision earlier this month to withdraw forces from northeast Syria, which paved the way for Turkey‘s military operation in the area.
In an interview with Al Jazeera, Joshua Landis, a Middle East expert at the University of Oklahoma, said the announcement was “emblematic of the chaos that has set in in the American foreign policy process”.
“It is in free-fall and the president is going back and forth,” Landis said. “This doesn’t really make much sense.”
The new deployment could mean US forces would be like “sitting ducks” being stationed in an area, in which the borders are guarded by Russian and Syrian troops, he added.
“Who is going to safeguard them? The Kurds will have nothing to do with America. They have now made a deal with the Assad government. The whole thing makes no sense.”
Brett McGurk, the top US official leading Trump’s anti-ISIL campaign until January, also criticised the latest shift in a social media post.
“The president of the United States of America appears to be calling for a mass migration of Kurds to the desert where they can resettle atop a tiny oilfield. Shocking ignorance of history, geography, law, American values, human decency, and honour.”
Trump had justified his earlier decision to withdraw US forces from Syria, saying he sought to bring about 1,000 troops home and end American involvement there.
Trump said previously a “small number” of US troops would remain in Syria to secure the oilfields.
However, reports from Newsweek and US broadcaster Fox said the deployment may include tanks and hundreds of soldiers.
The Turkish assault on northeastern Syria and the US-allied Kurdish forces has been halted after the US brokered a ceasefire.
Ankara also brokered a deal with Russia that saw the evacuation of Kurdish forces from a vast area along Syria’s border with Turkey.
Al Jazeera and news agencies