The United States is keeping some troops near oil fields in northeastern Syria to protect them from being captured by Islamic State, defense chief Mark Esper said Monday.
A convoy of more than 100 vehicles with U.S. troops crossed into Iraq from Syria on Monday, part of the broader withdrawal from northern Syria ordered by President Donald Trump. But Esper said that some American forces were still patrolling near the oil fields alongside Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces.
The Pentagon leader said no long-term decision has been made "with regard to numbers or anything like that."
"We presently have troops in a couple of cities that [are] located right near that area. The purpose is to deny access, specifically revenue to ISIS and any other groups that may want to seek that revenue to enable their own malign activities," Esper said.
Trump tweeted Sunday that "We have secured the oil."
Brett McGurk, former U.S. envoy in the fight against Islamic State, told VOA on Monday that he finds it "troubling" that a president should talk like that, calling the seizure of another country's assets "illegal."
"It's really not possible for us to exploit those oil resources unless we want to be oil smugglers," McGurk said. "Like it or not, it [the oil] is owned by the Syrian state."
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