Syrian oilfields no longer a priority for US forces says Pentagon

Biden administration changes tone and policy towards decade-old Syrian civil war

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby speaks during a media briefing at the Pentagon, Monday, Feb. 8, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
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US forces in Syria are focused on fighting the remnants of ISIS and are not guarding oilfields as previously ordered by ex-president Donald Trump, a US defence official said Monday.

Since a US firm entered a contract last year with the Kurds in northern Syria, to help exploit oil reserves in the north-east, US troops are not involved, said Pentagon spokesman John Kirby.

The 900 US military personnel and contractors in the region "are not authorised to provide assistance to any other private company, including its employees or agents, seeking to develop oil resources in Syria," Kirby said .

The only exception is when US troops in Syria are operating under existing authorisations to protect civilians, he said, which could explain the continuing presence of US forces around the area of the oilfields.

"It's important to remember that our mission there remains to enable the enduring defeat of ISIS," he said.

The shift is more a change in tone by the new US President Joe Biden from Trump's policy for the decade-old Syrian civil war.

The main oilfields are in territory in the country's north-east, a region where the US-allied Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces hold sway and depend on the oil for income.

In 2019, after the Syria-Iraq ISIS "caliphate" was crushed by US and allied forces, Trump declared that US troops would mostly withdraw from the country, leaving behind a residual force to "protect" the oil.

US officials said at the time that they were there to prevent the oilfields from falling into the hands of extremists.

The next year a previously unknown US oil company, Delta Crescent Energy, signed a deal with the Kurds to exploit the oil deposits.