Mark Esper
Mark EsperReuters

The US will send armored reinforcements into eastern Syria to bolster defenses against a potential move by Islamic State (ISIS) jihadists on oil fields controlled by American-backed Syrian Kurds, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Friday, according to The Associated Press.

Esper described the added force as "mechanized," which means it likely will include tanks and other combat vehicles such as Bradley armored infantry carriers. This would introduce a new dimension to the US military presence, which largely has been comprised of special operations forces not equipped with tanks or other armored vehicles.

Esper's comments came at a news conference at NATO headquarters in Brussels, where he consulted with American allies.

They come one day after the US Defense Department said it planned to beef up its presence in northeastern Syria to protect the oil fields there from being retaken by a potentially resurgent ISIS group.

The comments reflect yet another change in what has been a rapidly shifting US stance on forces in Syria.

US President Donald Trump unexpectedly announced earlier this month that he would be withdrawing troops from northern Syria, a withdrawal that is proceeding even as Esper announced the plan to put reinforcements in the oil-producing area.

Although Esper did not mention the size of the US reinforcements, it could total several hundred troops because fuel-guzzling tanks and other armored vehicles depend on a large supply and logistical support group, noted AP.

One official, who discussed the planning on condition of anonymity because some details remained to be agreed, cautioned that tanks might eventually be eliminated from the mix because of logistical challenges, including air transport.

Esper's announcement came even as Trump again indicated in tweets that the US military mission in Syria is complete. He previously has acknowledged a willingness to help protect the oil fields in eastern Syria, suggesting they could benefit the Kurds as well as the US, although those resources belong to the Syrian government.

"Oil is secured," Trump tweeted Friday. "Our soldiers have left and are leaving Syria for other places, then.... COMING HOME! ... When these pundit fools who have called the Middle East wrong for 20 years ask what we are getting out of the deal, I simply say, THE OIL, AND WE ARE BRINGING OUR SOLDIERS BACK HOME, ISIS SECURED!"

Esper made clear on Friday the main purpose is to prevent ISIS from regaining access to Syrian oil, which prior to 2017 was a major source of its revenue.

"If ISIS has access to the resources, and therefore the means to procure arms or to buy fighters or whatever else they do, then it means it makes it more difficult to defeat ISIS," he said, according to AP.

(Arutz Sheva’s North American desk is keeping you updated until the start of Shabbat in New York. The time posted automatically on all Arutz Sheva articles, however, is Israeli time.)