DAMASCUS/WASHINGTON, D.C. – US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper commented on a variety of issues on Saturday while delivering remarks at the Reagan National Defense Forum at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California.
“I think we have enough troops in Syria and if we don’t we would deploy additional troops — that’s one of the things I keep in close contact about with the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff,” Esper said, according to Sputnik.
Esper stated earlier in the week that US troops in northeastern Syria had finished maneuvers and asserted that the total number of troops on the ground would remain at around 600.
“The coalition is talking a lot again. We could see some allies want to volunteer troops […] If an allied country, a NATO country, decided to give us 50 people, I might be able to turn off 50 people,” Esper noted in an interview on Tuesday during a flight back from the NATO summit in London.
The movement of US forces has been the cause of much uncertainty in Syria following US President Donald Trump’s abrupt announcement of a withdrawal of troops in early October. The pullout was never completed, however, and US troops eventually set up camp in close proximity to Syrian oil fields controlled by Pentagon-allied Kurds.
The move is seen as a means to “safeguard” the fossil-fuel extraction process in the region, particularly from Daesh (ISIS). Fallout from the move has included wide-ranging attacks by the Turkish military against Kurdish forces it characterizes as terrorists, a deal struck between Russia and Turkey to ensure a so-called safe zone, and the return of Syrian government forces to the region for the first time in years.
Trump, while at the NATO Summit this week, credited US military forces with “protecting” oil extraction and production processes from falling back into the hands of terrorists. Esper also added on Saturday that the Pentagon is actively investing in the development of hypersonic weapons.
“We took a pause on this technology some years ago, when we had a clear lead, and what we’re doing now is playing catch-up. So the [Defense] Department is investing every dollar we can, every dollar that we can, you know, physically use to ensure that we gain an advantage on hypersonics,” Esper stated.
He also expressed concerns over the fact that Russia was developing modern types of strategic weapons.