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Trump considers keeping some US troops in northern Syria

President Donald J. Trump addresses his remarks at the swearing-in ceremony for new Secretary of Defense Mark Esper on Tuesday, July 23, 2019, in the Oval Office of the White House. (Official White House Photo by Joyce N. Boghosian)
October 21, 2019

President Trump is now reportedly considering leaving some U.S. troops in northeast Syria following a major withdrawal of forces and subsequent bipartisan criticism.

Defense Secretary Mark Esper traveled to Afghanistan over the weekend and told reporters on Monday from Kabul that the administration has been discussing the possibility of maintaining a residual force in the region to “deny” oil field access to terror groups such as ISIS, The Wall Street Journal reported.

“We presently have troops in a couple of cities that are located right near that area,” Esper said. “The purpose is to deny access, specifically revenue, to ISIS and any other groups that may want to seek that revenue to enable their own malign activities.”

The mission to deny oil field access seems consistent with a tweet released by Trump on Friday morning, which said, “The U.S. has secured the Oil, & the ISIS Fighters are double secured by Kurds & Turkey….”

A senior administration official told The New York Times on Sunday that the Trump was considering such a plan, while three other administration and Pentagon officials said a plan was under discussion.

Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham — who was highly critical of Trump’s decision to completely withdraw 1,000 U.S. troops from northeastern Syria and subsequently abandoning Kurdish allies – reportedly suggested to Trump that he leave some U.S. forces in the region.

Graham had said on Sunday that after holding discussions with Trump, his concerns about the Syria withdrawal were eased, and he was “increasingly optimistic that we can have some historic solutions” in Syria.

“President Trump is thinking outside the box,” Graham said.

He added that the administration was mulling a plan for international forces to occupy a demilitarized zone in Syria to promote stability in the region, but the U.S. would not participate in the zone, and it’s not clear which nations would be involved.

However, Esper tweeted Monday afternoon, “As we withdraw from NE Syria, we will temporarily reposition those forces in the region outside Syria until they return home.”

Esper previously indicated that the deliberate withdrawal of U.S. forces would take “weeks, not days.”