WASHINGTON — The Pentagon emphasized Monday that U.S. troops will secure oil fields in northeast Syria in the wake of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi's death.
"At the height of Baghdadi's reign, these oil fields provided ISIS with the bulk of financial resources used to fund its terror," Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said Monday at the Pentagon. "U.S. troops will remain positioned in this strategic area to deny ISIS access to those vital resources and we will respond with overwhelming military force against any group that threatens the safety of our forces there," he added.
"The fundamental purpose of securing those oil fields is to deny those oil fields access to ISIS in order to prevent ISIS from resurgence," Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Mark Milley said alongside Esper.
On Sunday, President Donald Trump confirmed Baghdadi's death and identified Syria's oil as a U.S. national security priority. Trump also highlighted a potential U.S. energy market opportunity by tapping into Syrian oil.
"What I intend to do, perhaps, is make a deal with an ExxonMobil or one of our great companies to go in there and do it properly...and spread out the wealth," Trump said, adding that U.S. troops would be tasked with retaining control of the oil facilities.
"[The oil] fueled ISIS, number one. Number two, it helps the Kurds – because it's basically been taken away from the Kurds... And, number three, it can help us, because we should be able to take some also," he said.
What's more, the latest revelation comes as the Trump administration works to withdraw the U.S. military presence in war-torn Syria.
"Baghdadi's death will not rid the world of terrorism or end the ongoing conflict in Syria but it will certainly send a message to those who question America's resolve and provide a warning to terrorists who think they can hide," Esper said.
Last year, Trump went through a similar debate over whether to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan, ultimately agreeing to keep them there but only after repeatedly raising questions about why they should stay.