- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 14, 2019

The U.S. will keep about a battalion-sized complement of troops in Syria to fight Islamic State, after President Trump modified his original withdrawal order, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper confirmed Thursday.

“Our mission is the enduring defeat of ISIS. We’re going to have about 500-600-ish troops there at the end of the day,” Mr. Esper told reporters en route to South Korea. “We’re still moving troops out of northeastern Syria. That process has been underway.”

His estimate tracks the figures offered by Gen. Mark Milley, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, during an interview with ABC on Sunday. Mr. Trump’s original order last month indicated that all 2,000 U.S. troops would be leaving Syria, with many redeploying to neighboring Iraq.

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Mr. Esper said the U.S. will continue to work with the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces in the region and safeguard the oil facilities in the region for the SDF — despite complaints from Turkey that the Syrian Kurds are allied to militant Kurdish separatists inside Turkey itself.

“A way that we ensure the enduring defeat of ISIS is to deny them access to the oil fields because if they have access to the oil fields they can generate revenue,” Mr. Esper said. “If they can generate revenue, then they can pay fighters, they can buy arms, they can conduct operations.”

Mr. Esper suggested that perhaps another country may also join the effort to secure the Syrian oil fields.

“If they join us on the ground, it may allow us the ability to redeploy further U.S. forces out there,” he said.

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