In an exclusive report on Wednesday, Kurdistan24 News described visiting two bases in eastern Syria to talk with the roughly 500 U.S. troops left behind to defend strategically vital oil fields.
The soldiers said they are still working with the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) militia and conducting operations against Islamic State (ISIS) remnants.
Kurdistan24 found the bases were equipped well enough to hold everyone from ISIS to invading Turkish forces and the Syrian government at bay:
In an undisclosed base in oil-rich Deir al-Zor, US Marine Corps Gunnery Sgt. Chris Becker told Kurdistan 24 that the withdrawal decision had not affected the relationship between the SDF and the US-led coalition. “The relationship has remained the same; they [SDF] are very nice with us and we talk on a regular basis.”
There are Apache helicopters and artillery units at the base that prevent the resurgence of the so-called Islamic State. They also prevent Syrian government troops from gaining control of oilfields in SDF-held territories in Deir al-Zor.
The report said the Americans were concerned about attacks against Kurdish troops and civilians by Turkey and its Syrian allies:
On Tuesday, Turkish-backed militias captured three Christian fighters.
“There were some SDF fighters concerned about their families closer to the border with Turkey and what potentially could happen with them,” US Marine Corps Gunnery Sgt. Chris Becker said. “Of course, I can emphasize with them, I have family back home, and I can only imagine if they would be in danger.”
Despite their sympathy, US soldiers told Kurdistan 24 that they have to follow orders from the “higher-ups” and cannot change the White House’s decision.
Initially, the biggest concern for the US forces remaining in Deir al-Zor was that SDF fighters would advance the north to help their colleagues defend the border.
“We understood that we did what we could to help them, but at the same time stressed the importance to remain in place and keep the mission down in the southeast porter over here,” Sgt. Becker added.
U.S. personnel at another base said they received a warm welcome from the locals when they brought Bradley armored fighting vehicles to bear against ISIS forces in the region, a markedly different reception than Russian and Turkish armored convoys have been given by stone-throwing locals.
Although Kurdish officials said they are still worried about Turkey attacking a major population center like Kobani, U.S. President Donald Trump stated after meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday that the American troops interviewed by Kurdistan24 are only there to defend the oilfields.
“We’re keeping the oil, we have the oil, the oil is secure, we left troops behind only for the oil,” Trump said at a press conference.
Pentagon officials have previously stated the remaining American troops in Syria have missions beyond protecting the oilfields, prominently including the final defeat of the Islamic State.
“The mission is the defeat of ISIS. The securing of the oil fields is a subordinate task to that mission, and the purpose of that task is to deny ISIS the revenues from that oil infrastructure,” Pentagon Vice Director of Joint Staff Rear Admiral William Byrne said last week.