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Syrian oil fields no longer priority for US forces, says Pentagon

Pentagon spokesman says defeating Islamic State group is Washington's main objective in war-ravaged country
In 2019, Trump announced that US troops would largely withdraw from Syria, with the exception of a small force that would remain in order to "protect" the oil.
In 2019, Trump announced US troops would largely withdraw from Syria, with exception of a small force that would remain to 'protect' oil resources (AFP)

US forces in Syria are not guarding oil fields as previously ordered by former President Donald Trump, and are instead focused on fighting the remnants of the Islamic State (IS) group, a Pentagon spokesman said.

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said that US troops have not been involved in Syria's oil fields since the US firm Delta Crescent Energy inked a deal last August with the Kurds in northern Syria to develop and export the area's crude oil.

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

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

Kirby emphasised that Washington's goal in Syria was to target and defeat IS.

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

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The comments embody a shift in the tone of the administration of US President Joe Biden, which is seeking to depart from the Trump-era approach to the decade-long Syrian civil war.

In 2019, after Trump declared that IS had been defeated, he announced that American troops would largely withdraw from the country, with the exception of a small force that would remain in order to "protect" the oil.

US officials said at the time that they were there to prevent the oil fields from falling into the hands of militants.

The main oil fields are in the country's northeast, a region controlled by the US-allied Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces who depend on the oil for income.

Delta Crescent Energy, which signed a deal with the Kurds to exploit the oil deposits, was a previously unknown company, and according to a report by Politico had only been incorporated in 2019, a year prior to the deal.

Last month, Syria's ambassador to the United Nations, Bashar al-Jaafari, accused the US of using the multi-sided war to steal the country's oil reserves and other natural resources. 

"The American occupation forces continue to plunder Syria's wealth of oil, gas and agricultural crops, burning and destroying what it cannot steal," Jaafari said, as quoted by the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency.

"The new US administration must stop acts of aggression and occupation, plundering the wealth of my country, withdraw its occupying forces from it, and stop supporting separatist militias, illegal entities, and attempts to threaten Syria's sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity," Jaafari said.