US troops leaving Syria may return to protect oil wells, as ceasefire...

US troops leaving Syria may return to protect oil wells, as ceasefire nears end

Defense Secretary Mark Esper meets with Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on Tuesday (DoD photo)

WASHINGTON — The 120-hour ceasefire on the Turkish military incursion into Syria expires today with U.S. forces still on the move out of the positions they held in that country. To where exactly remains unclear.

Pentagon officials originally said most of the 1,000 U.S. troops leaving Syria would reposition across the border in Iraq. However, on Tuesday Iraqi officials said no permission has been granted for that arrangement.

““All U.S. forces that withdrew from Syria received approval to enter the Kurdistan Region so that they may be transported outside Iraq. There is no permission granted for these forces to stay inside Iraq,” the Iraqi military said in a statement Tuesday to the media.

As one alternative, Defense Secretary Mark Esper and President Trump said about 200 of the departing troops could return to Syria and take up positions around the oil wells. That theory is to prevent ISIS from recapturing the oil wells, located around Deir el-Zour in southeastern Syria near the Iraqi border.

Esper made his remarks to the small group of Pentagon reporters traveling with him, known as a pool. TMN is part of the larger pool and shares those remarks.

Some fighting continued Tuesday between Kurds who were allied with U.S. forces and the Turkish military and its Syrian militia allies.

Also Tuesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan met in Sochi, Russia, and agreed to take joint control of a key swatch of land along the Syria-Turkey border, according to news reports. That gives Russia even more of a foothold in the Middle East.

Erdogan said Tuesday that if the Kurdish fighters do not withdraw from that area “our offensive will continue from where it left off, with a much greater determination” and that “there is no place for the (Kurdish fighters) in Syria’s future. We hope that with Russia’s cooperation, we will rid the region of separatist terror,” according to news reports.

Meanwhile, on Tuesday Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) introduced a resolution that urges Trump to cease the U.S. military withdrawal from Syria and to “rethink” his invitation to Erdogan to visit the White House, according to news reports. That visit is scheduled for November.

Esper, who is traveling through the Middle East, was in Saudi Arabia on Tuesday. He insisted that “we are not a mercenary force” when asked about Saudi Arabia paying for the recent deployments of U.S. troops and equipment to Riyadh. The deployments are in response to perceived Iranian threats.

–By Tom Squitieri

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