The Pentagon intends to retain control of Syria’s oilfields going forward, and says they will repel anyone else trying to take that oil with “overwhelming force.” This has become the chief, and materially only, military goal of the US military operation in Syria.
Since President Trump announced his intention to control the oil, and conceivably to try to take some of it on behalf of the US, the Pentagon has been revising the Syria mission around controlling the oil. This has included sending more troops and tanks.
Pentagon officials have tried to build this narrative around keeping ISIS from reclaiming the oilfields, since they held them once. With ISIS barely existing anymore, that’s not a realistic threat, and Defense Secretary Mark Esper conceded on Monday that the deployments of US forces are meant to “deny access” to the oil to either Russia or the Syrian government.
Keeping Syria’s oil away from Syria is a potential problem, but Esper says the goal is to give some of the money to the Kurdish SDF to keep themselves armed, and to keep supporting the US military mission in Syria.
Giving the Kurds money to help with the US mission would sound a lot better if the US mission wasn’t to keep the oil for itself, and with the US increasingly cutting its ties to the Kurds, and Trump increasingly ripping into the Kurds on social media, it seems like that ship has already sailed.
Which doesn’t mean any necessarily substantial changes in the US plan, beyond cutting the Kurds out of the equation of who gets money out of an oil scheme, assuming one ever actually happens.