Right in the crosshairs of ISIS, and anybody else who wants that oil:
The mechanized National Guard brigade combat team that is tasked with protecting infrastructure has been in Syria for a little over a week now, a key part of the U.S. military's repositioning of forces. While Pentagon officials will not put an exact figure on the number of troops expected to remain in Syria, they have said it is likely to be a few hundred fewer than the roughly 1,000 troops deployed there before October.
The policy changes have shaken up an already volatile region and severely tested the relationship between the U.S. and the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, one of Washington's closest allies in the fight against ISIS.
The 30th Brigade Combat Team had recently deployed to Kuwait to replace a previous unit, and I had hoped their tenure would be uneventful. But when I saw reports of Trump wanting to move in some tanks and other armored vehicles to "provide security" for the oilfields in Syria, I got a sinking feeling. And with them being deployed after a monumental clusterfuck by Trump, I'm even more concerned:
When the president announced the U.S. withdrawal from Syria last month, it paved the way for a Turkish invasion that has threatened Syrian Kurdish forces, who have already lost more than 10,000 fighters in the U.S.-backed fight against ISIS.
Trump then announced that mechanized units with hundreds of conventional troops would protect oil installations in eastern Syria. The repositioning has left U.S. military commanders scrambling to defend or even define a policy that is meant to continue the fight against ISIS, while withdrawing specialized forces who were doing so.
"The oil — that's just another revenue generation source, one of many that ISIS tries to utilize. And we will continue to keep that out of their hands," says Maj. Gen. Eric Hill, the special forces commander in Iraq and Syria, speaking on Monday to the visiting group of U.S. and Kurdish journalists at the remote base in Hasakah.
When asked how armored vehicles would help in the fight against ISIS — which, after its territorial defeat, has gone to ground — Hill says: "I would say our force mix currently has an array of capability. We have multiple different capabilities to get at ISIS. But our primary way that we do that is through our partner. It's through intelligence, it's working with the partner."
You mean the partner we abandoned, and allowed Turkey to viciously attack? We might still have some Kurdish allies in the area, but their intelligence-gathering capabilities have been seriously compromised. And on top of that, there are about 10,000 previously imprisoned ISIS fighters back in the Levant-building game:
"The danger of the resurgence of ISIS is very big. And it's a serious danger," he warned. "I think there are many people who don't know this but it's true. The Turkish aggression opened the space and provided hope for ISIS members."
The SDF had been holding more than 10,000 prisoners when Turkey's "Operation Peace Spring" began on October 9. SDF forces were already stretched to breaking point, and the incursion meant troops had to be deployed to the front lines rather than guard ISIS prisoners and civilians who had been living in areas under the group's control.
The U.S. government took custody of a handful of prisoners before they could escape, but officials have also admitted they do not know exactly how many detainees have been freed, nor where they are.
In about 8 months these folks will be returning to NC (and other states), and we need to make sure they have the support they have earned when they go back to their civilian jobs and lives.