President Donald Trump is expanding the U.S. role in Syria to include defending oil fields as the administration tries to deprive the Islamic State of economic resources, the Associated Press reported Tuesday.
Trump’s decision places hundreds of troops into the war-torn country to protect a swath of land stretching nearly 90 miles from Deir el-Zour to al-Hassakeh. The area is currently controlled by Syrian Kurdish fighters, AP reported, citing unnamed U.S. officials.
The president’s goal is to counter Iran and partner with the Kurds, many of whom battled ISIS. Officials say Trump has largely reduced the number of footprints in the country but he is still working to eliminate future ISIS incursions.
“The enduring defeat of ISIS mission that we have, the oil fields are contained inside of that,” Lt. Gen. Pat White told NBC in an interview Tuesday. “It denies them revenue, denies them an opportunity to reconstitute.”
Critics meanwhile are panning the move.
Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia, for instance, questioned the legal basis for the move. “Risking the lives of our troops to guard oil rigs in eastern Syria is not only reckless, it’s not legally authorized,” Kaine told AP reporters.
He added: “President Trump betrayed our Kurdish allies that have fought alongside American soldiers in the fight to secure a future without ISIS – and instead moved our troops to protect oil rigs.” ISIS fighters depended largely on such oil fields for their financial success since their heyday.
The terror organization’s biggest oil-producing region was Deir Ezzor province, where production pulled in 34,000 to 40,000 barrels a day in October 2015, Financial Times reported in 2015. That number fell dramatically after Russian and U.S. forces carried out airstrikes against oil facilities. ISIS was earning roughly $1.5 million a day, according to the Financial Times.
Most of the oil was distributed throughout ISIS-controlled areas, but media reports show the group’s oil sold on the black market outside the group’s borders for as much as 40% below market value. (RELATED: One Of The Islamic State’s Biggest Oil Customers May Surprise You)
News of Trump’s decision comes less than two weeks after the U.S. killed the group’s former leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, during a daring raid. The group replaced him with Ibrahim al-Qurayshi on Oct. 31
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