- The Washington Times - Friday, October 25, 2019

President Trump‘s troop pullout from Syria and Special Forces strike that killed Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi didn’t dent his fixation on securing oil fields in the war-torn country.

When announcing the death of al-Baghdadi on Sunday, Mr. Trump stressed that he didn’t want the U.S. caught in a clash between Turkey and Syria that dates back centuries — but troops are ready to fight for the oil.

“We’re out. But we are leaving soldiers to secure the oil,” he said. “Now we may have to fight for the oil. It’s OK. Maybe somebody else wants the oil, in which case they have a hell of a fight.”

He gave two justifications for U.S. control of the oil fields: cutting off the Islamic State from the financial resources of the oil and guaranteeing that a “fair” deal is brokered with whoever ultimately owns it.

“We will negotiate a deal with whoever is claiming it [that] we think it is fair or we will militarily stop them very quickly,” the president said.

Mr. Trump‘s preoccupation dates to the middle of President Obama’s tenure when he repeatedly called on the U.S. to take oil from Libya, Syria and Iraq as a form of reimbursement.

“We should have gotten more of the oil in Syria, and we should have gotten more of the oil in Iraq. Dumb leaders,” Mr. Trump tweeted in early 2012.

He also mused about the status of oil in Middle East frequently in 2011, when U.S. forces were involved in the Arab spring revolt in Libya and the wind-down of operations in Iraq.

“When will our nation’s sacrifices be respectfully appreciated?” he tweeted in October of that year. “Iraq and Libya should reimburse us in oil.”

Now as president, Mr. Trump has a chance to turn tweets into action. The Pentagon said it has drawn up plans to send forces to protect the oil fields and keep them from falling into the hands of the Islamic State, or ISIS.

The strategy is confounding some on Capitol Hill. They say Mr. Trump blundered from the start in northern Syria, as the Turks, the United States, U.S.-allied Kurds and Russia jockey for influence along a key border strip.

Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper “says we are sending armored vehicles to defend the oil fields, not just special forces,” tweeted Sen. Brian Schatz, Hawaii Democrat. “This may be the first time we’ve deployed anything other than special forces to Syria. Tanks are obviously less nimble than special forces, so they are more at risk to enemy forces.”

Mr. Trump angered congressional leaders by withdrawing dozens of American troops from a buffer zone between Turkey and Syria ahead of an Ankara-ordered attack on Kurdish fighters this month.

The Kurds helped the U.S. rout the Islamic State in the region, but Mr. Trump said he didn’t want a shooting war with Turkey — a NATO ally — and that he wants to bring troops home.

Even so, Mr. Trump is shifting troops to Iraq and closer to Syrian oil fields to ensure that Islamic State fighters do not profit from fossil fuels and reemerge as a regional force.

“There’s tremendous money involved,” Mr. Trump said.

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