The US military announced Friday that it is deploying armored vehicles and other military assets to Syria to protect US troops fighting ISIS amid tensions with Russia as President Donald Trump told a White House news conference that “we are out of Syria,” saying the remaining US forces are there exclusively “guarding the oil.”
The US-led coalition fighting ISIS “plans to position mechanized infantry units, including Bradley Fighting Vehicles, to Syria to ensure the protection of Coalition forces and preserve their freedom of movement so they may continue Defeat Daesh operations safely,” Col. Wayne Marotto, a spokesman for the coalition, said in a statement, using an Arabic name for the terror group.
This is not the first time the US has deployed Bradley Fighting Vehicles to Syria. They were last sent in October 2019 but have been absent from the country for nearly a year.
The US has also deployed the Sentinel radar system, which is used to help counter enemy drones and missiles, as well as increased the frequency of US fighter jet patrols over US forces, Capt. William Urban, a spokesman for US Central Command, which oversees US operations in the region, told CNN.
“The United States does not seek conflict with any other nation in Syria, but will defend Coalition forces if necessary,” Urban said.
The newest military deployments come amid tensions between US and Russian troops in the region following a recent collision between armored vehicles that injured seven US troops.
“These actions and reinforcements are a clear signal to Russia to adhere to mutual deconfliction processes and for Russia and other parties to avoid unprofessional unsafe and provocative actions in northeast Syria,” a US official told CNN.
On Friday, Trump seemed to send a different message about US priorities in Syria when he told reporters at the White House, “We are out of Syria other than we kept the oil. I kept the oil. We have troops guarding the oil. Other than that we are out of Syria.”
Despite what Trump says, US military leaders say American troops are in the country to work with the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces to help combat the remnants of ISIS and deny the terror group from profiting off of Syria’s oil reserves.
While Trump has yet to comment on the incident between US and Russian troops that left multiple US service members injured, top Pentagon officials have slammed Russia for its actions during the incident, labeling them “provocative.”
The commander of US Central Command, which oversees all US military operations in the Middle East, said last week that Russia’s behavior had improved following a series of high-level “de-confliction” phone calls between top US and Russian military leaders, including the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Mark Milley, and his counterpart, Chief of the Russian General Staff Gen. Valery Gerasimov.
“Since then, their behavior has been better. I don’t want to judge or project what it might be in the future. But I would simply tell you that we are ready for all eventualities in Syria and the force has what it needs to protect itself,” Gen. Frank McKenzie told NBC News.
The US military believes Russia is eager to seize Syria’s oil and gas resources, and Moscow has protested efforts by the Syrian Kurds to develop the oil fields under their control.
US officials assess that the Russian military patrols in eastern Syria are aimed in part at driving US forces and the Syrian Democratic Forces out of the area.