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US To Retain 500-600 Troops In Syria: Defense Secretary

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Defense Secretary Mark Esper announced that around 600 U.S. troops will remain in Syria. This statement brought clarity on the exact size of the U.S. military presence in the war-torn country.

Esper disclosed this to the media on a flight en route to Seoul. He was asked how many troops do the United States have in Syria, and what's their mission.

"Our mission is the enduring defeat of ISIS. We're going to have about 500 to 600-ish troops there, at the end of the day." he told reporters.

Asked if that figure included around 200 marines deployed to the Al-Tanf garrison near the southeastern borders with Jordan and Iraq, Esper said that he was referring to northeastern Syria, where President Donald Trump had instructed the Pentagon to protect oil facilities.

Trump had announced last month that the United States was ending its military presence in Syria, except for a small number of U.S. troops that will remain "in the area where they have the oil."

Hundreds of U.S. troops have left northern Syria, and are being re-deployed to Iraq to fight Islamic State terrorists in that country.

Esper said Wednesday, "A way that we ensure the enduring defeat of ISIS is deny them access to the oil fields because if they have access to the oil fields, they can generate revenue. If they can generate revenue, then they can pay fighters, they can buy arms, they can conduct operations. They can do all those things because the revenue enables them. So that's how the mission relates".

He added that U.S. troops are still withdrawing from Kobane, a city in Aleppo, where Syrian and Russian military took control in mid October in a bid to stop Turkish forces from invading it.

Esper said that the number of troops could fluctuate, particularly if partners and allies from Europe join the United States in the military campaign in the country.

"If they join us on the ground it may allow us the ability to redeploy further U.S. forces out there".

Asked if the U.S. forces are still partnered with the rebel Syrian Democratic Forces and supporting them through financial and equipment transfers, Esper replied in the affirmative.

Meanwhile, in a joint news conference with his Turkish counterpart President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Trump said, "We left troops behind (in Syria) only for the oil."

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