Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) fighter
Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) fighterReuters

The US Defense Department said on Thursday it planned to beef up its presence in northeastern Syria to protect the oil fields there from being retaken by a potentially resurgent Islamic State (ISIS) group.

"The US is committed to reinforcing our position, in coordination with our SDF partners, in northeast Syria with additional military assets to prevent those oil fields from falling back to into the hands of ISIS or other destabilizing actors," a defense official said in a statement quoted by AFP.

US President Donald Trump unexpectedly announced earlier this month that he would be withdrawing troops from northern Syria.

However, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said earlier this week that the US is mulling the possibility of maintaining a small ground presence near the oil fields in the area.

Late last week, Esper indicated that all of the nearly 1,000 troops withdrawing from northern Syria are expected to move to western Iraq to continue the campaign against ISIS and “to help defend Iraq.”

Meanwhile on Thursday, Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said US military leaders are preparing a plan that could keep ISIS fighters from regaining a foothold in Syria, while preventing Syrian oil from falling into the hands of Iran or the militant group.

"There's a plan coming together from the Joint Chiefs that I think may work, that may give us what we need to prevent ISIS from coming back, Iran taking the oil, ISIS from taking the oil," Graham told reporters after receiving a briefing from the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the White House, according to Reuters.

"I am somewhat encouraged that a plan is coming about that will meet our core objectives in Syria," he added.