Attempting to distance itself from the previous administration’s policies, the Pentagon said on Monday that US forces occupying northeast Syria are not there to protect oil fields.
When President Trump decided to stay in Syria in 2019, he said it was to “secure” the oil. In 2020, a US energy company inked a deal with the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) to exploit the oil fields in the region.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said the estimated 900 US troops and contractors in northeast Syria are “are not authorized to provide assistance to any other private company, including its employees or agents, seeking to develop oil resources in Syria.”
But Kirby left some wiggle room for soldiers to protect US oil interests and appeared to admit that there are US troops stationed near oil fields in northeast Syria. He said there is an exception for operating under existing authorizations to protect civilians, which Kirby said explains the continued US military presence near oil fields.
While it might sound like a shift in policy, throughout the Trump administration, the US military said they were in Syria to fight remnants of ISIS and didn’t outright admit that they were occupying oil fields. Kirby said the same on Monday. “It’s important to remember that our mission there remains to enable the enduring defeat of ISIS,” he said.
So far, the Biden administration is continuing the Trump administration’s policies of maintaining a small occupation force in Syria. The State Department said it will continue supporting the SDF, and crushing economic sanctions that aim to prevent Syria’s reconstruction are still in place.
The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said it recorded nine US convoys entering Syria from Iraq so far in 2021. While these convoys were common during Trump’s presidency, the rapid pace of convoys this year signals a possible escalation.