Russia calls US move to protect Syrian oil ‘banditry’ - GulfToday

Russia calls US move to protect Syrian oil ‘banditry’


Syrian government forces arrive near the city of Ras Al Ain in the north of Syria on Saturday. Associated Press

Russia’s Defence Ministry on Saturday harshly criticised the United States decision to send armoured vehicles and combat troops into eastern Syria to protect oil fields.

US Defence Secretary Mark Esper says the move is aimed at keeping the fields from potentially falling into the hands of Daesh militants.

On Saturday, a US convoy of over a dozen vehicles was seen driving south of the northeastern city of Qamishli, likely heading to the oil-rich Deir el-Zour area or another base before it. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights also reported the convoy, saying it arrived earlier from Iraq.

Russian ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said “what Washington is doing now, the seizure and control of oil fields in eastern Syria under its armed control, is, quite simply, international state banditry.” He added in a statement that “all hydrocarbon deposits and other minerals located on the territory of Syria do not belong to the Daesh militants, and even less to the ‘American defenders from Daesh militants,’ but exclusively to the Syrian Arab Republic.”

“The real cause of this illegal action by the United States in Syria lies far from the ideals that Washington has proclaimed and from the slogans of fighting terrorism,” Konashenkov said.

Esper’s comments were the latest sign that extracting the US military from Syria is more uncertain and complicated than President Donald Trump is making it out to be.

Earlier this month, Trump ordered US troops out of northeastern Syria, largely turning his back on Syrian Kurds who battled Daesh alongside the US-led coalition since 2015. But Trump said he will leave up to 300 troops in southern Syria before Esper said another residual force was being considered in southeastern Syria to protect oil fields.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spoke by telephone on Saturday about Syria.

“From the Russian side, the necessity was emphasised of refraining from steps undermining the sovereignty and territorial integrity of that county,” the ministry said in a statement.

The United States will send armored vehicles and combat troops into eastern Syria to keep oil fields from potentially falling into the hands of Daesh militants, US Defense Secretary Mark Esper said.

It was the latest sign that extracting the military from Syria is more uncertain and complicated than President Donald Trump is making it out to be. Though Trump repeatedly says he is pulling out of Syria, the reality on the ground is different.

Adding armoured reinforcements in the oil-producing area of Syria could mean sending several hundred US troops — even as a similar number are being withdrawn from a separate mission closer to the border with Turkey where Russian forces have been filling the vacuum.

On Friday, Esper described the added force as “mechanised,” which means it likely will include armoured vehicles such as Bradley armoured infantry carriers and possibly tanks, although details were still be worked out. This reinforcement would introduce a new dimension to the US military presence, which largely has been comprised of special operations forces not equipped with tanks or other armoured vehicles.

Esper spoke at a news conference at Nato headquarters in Brussels, where he consulted with American allies.

Sending an armoured force to eastern Syria would partially reverse the ongoing shrinkage of the US troop presence in Syria. Trump has ordered the withdrawal of nearly all 1,000 US troops who had been partnering with a Syrian Kurdish-led militia against the Daesh group. That withdrawal is proceeding even as Esper announced the plan to put reinforcements in the oil-producing area.

Speaking to reporters on Friday at the White House, Trump said the US-brokered agreement with Turkey to halt its offensive against US-supporting Syrian Kurdish fighters was a win for his administration. That offensive began after Trump announced US troops would not stand in the way, though he also said the US would punish Turkey’s economy if the country acted inhumanely.

He also said anew on Friday that “we’re getting our troops out” of Syria, without mentioning Esper’s announcement.

Associated Press

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