US to boost troops protecting Syrian oil
QAMISHLI (AFP) — The U.S. said Thursday it would beef up its military presence to protect northeastern Syria oil fields as Kurdish forces abandoned several positions to comply with a deal allowing Damascus, Ankara and Moscow to carve up their now-defunct autonomous region.
“The U.S. is committed to reinforcing our position, in coordination with our SDF (Syrian Democratic Forces) partners, in northeast Syria with additional military assets to prevent those oil fields from falling back to into the hands of ISIS or other destabilizing actors,” a Pentagon official said in a statement.
The official did not provide any numbers or confirm reports that U.S. armored assets would stay by the oilfields, once used to fund the Islamic State group’s short-lived “caliphate.”
The announcement came as Russian forces began patrolling the flashpoint Syrian-Turkish frontier, filling part of the vacuum left by a U.S. troop withdrawal that effectively returned a third of Syria to the Moscow-backed regime of President Bashar al-Assad.
An AFP correspondent saw a Russian patrol set off from Qamishli westwards along the border flying Russian flags.
The Russian defense ministry said the patrol covered “more than 60 kilometers” (37 miles) between Qamishli and Amuda.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that the Kurdish-led SDF had pulled out of some areas at the eastern end of the border on Thursday.
Yet fighters from the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG)
— the main component of the SDF — remained in many positions along the 440-kilometre border, said Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman.
The Britain-based war monitor also reported clashes near the town of Tal Tamr between SDF fighters and some of the Syrian former rebels paid by Turkey to fight ground battles.
On Tuesday Russia and Turkey signed a deal in the Black Sea resort of Sochi that promised a ceasefire while requiring Kurdish forces to withdraw to a line 30 kilometers from the border.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is embattled on the domestic political front, hopes to use the pocket to resettle at least half of the 3.6 million Syrian refugees his country hosts.