Secretary of Defence Mark Esper has confirmed that the US plans to continue controlling Syria’s oil fields, and to prevent them from falling into the hands of terrorists or “other actors”.
“The mission is, as I’ve spoken to and I’ve conveyed it to the commander, and that is, we will secure oil fields to deny their access to ISIS* and other actors in the region, and to ensure that the [Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces] has continued access, because those resources are – are important, and so that the SDF –can do its mission, what it needs to do in the region,” Esper said, speaking to reporters on Thursday after meeting with Australian Minister for Defence Linda Reynolds.
His remarks were published in a transcript on the DoD’s website.
Asked to comment on what President Trump meant with his repeated statements about the need to ‘take’ and ‘keep’ Syria’s oil, Esper said that he “interpreted” the president’s sentiment as a need “to deny ISIS access to the oil fields; secure them so that they are denied access to the oil fields”.
“The ceasefire is holding up very nicely. There are some minor skirmishes that have ended quickly. New areas being resettled with Kurds. U.S. soldiers are not in combat or ceasefire zone. We have secured the Oil.” Mark Esper, Secretary of Defense. Ending endless wars!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) 20 октября 2019 г.
US efforts to seize control of Syria’s oil fields have been criticised by Syria and its allies. Last week, the Russian military presented intelligence materials on a $30 million a month oil smuggling scheme used by the Pentagon and the CIA which Moscow described as nothing short of “international state banditry”. According to Russian intelligence, the illegal US-supervised extraction of Syrian oil was being carried out by “leading American corporations” and private military contractors, with US special forces and air power used for protection.
On Thursday, Syrian President Bashar Assad said that despite the “criminal” nature of US actions, President Trump may actually be the “best” US president in recent memory as far as Damascus was concerned. “He is the best not because of good policies, but because he is the most transparent, he talks straight, [saying] ‘we need the oil’, ‘we want to get rid of someone’, ‘we want to exchange favours for money.’ Such is US policy. What can be better than an honest enemy?” Assad said.
Earlier this week US officials told US media that about 900 US servicemen would stay in Syria, with 500 of them to be assigned to ‘guarding’ Syria’s oil. On Monday, Esper confirmed that US troops would prevent Syrian and Russian forces from occupying oil fields in eastern Syria.
Syria's Oil and Gas Reserves
Syria is a relatively small oil and gas exporter, particularly compared to many of its neighbours, and made only an estimated $3.2 billion on the sale of oil in 2010, before the start of the foreign-backed civil war took total official exports down to near zero. Much of the country’s oil and gas reserves are located in the country’s north and northeast, areas which came under the control of US-backed Syrian Kurdish militia after Daesh’s defeat. Before its collapse, Daesh stole crude and smuggled it out of the country, raking in tens of millions of dollars.
Oil revenues could serve as a much-needed support for rebuilding the war-torn country. Last year, Damascus estimated that rebuilding the country could require up to $400 billion in spending, and take over a decade to complete. The US and its European allies have refused to commit funding toward the reconstruction effort, even as hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees have returned home in recent years amid the lull in fighting.
This week, the United Nations called for Syria relief, with a Syrian government representative warning that the future of the Syrian peace process may be threatened by the continued illegal presence of foreign forces on Syrian territory, “the spoliation of the resources of our country and the continuing imposition of unilateral economic sanctions”.
*ISIS, also known as Daesh, a terrorist group outlawed in Russia and many other countries.