"The presence will be small, but the objective will remain the same: a permanent defeat of the Islamic State"
The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley said during an interview with ABC News Sunday that 500 "or perhaps 600" U.S. soldiers will remain in Syrian territory.
The senior military official justified the decision as allegedly "there is a very real possibility that conditions will be established for a resurgence of the Islamic state," adding that "the presence will be small, but the objective will remain the same: a permanent defeat of the group."
This comes as United States President Donald Trump said on Oct. 21 that despite the withdrawal from northeast Syria, Washington would keep a group of soldiers in the area to prevent Syrian oil from falling into the hands of extremists. Trump had previously promised to bring all of the 1,000 or so U.S. troops in Syria home.
Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said at a press conference that the mission, on its surface, aims to keep these oil fields in the hands of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, Washington’s former allies in the fight against IS.
The North American troops, he said, will “respond with overwhelming military force against any group who threatens the safety of our forces there.” When asked whether the army would potentially respond with force against Russian or Syrian forces, Esper simply answered affirmatively.
Meanwhile, Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said on Oct. 26 that "capturing and maintaining military control over oil fields in eastern Syria is simply international state banditry. Russia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs Spokesperson Maria Zajarova stressed that the U.S. smuggles more than US$30 million worth of oil from Syria each month and does not intend to leave the region in the foreseeable future.
Most of the U.S. troops crossed last month the border into Iraq under withdrawal orders issued by President Donald Trump, a decision that allowed Turkey to launch an offensive against the SDF, which for years was a U.S. ally in the fight against the Islamic state.