Nov. 14 (UPI) -- Secretary of Defense Mark Esper has confirmed that the United States plans to keep 500 to 600 troops on the ground in Syria and that the U.S. would continue to partner with Syrian Democratic Forces.
That number is consistent with a statement made by Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley earlier this week, telling ABC News that the U.S. footprint in Syria would be reduced to "less than 1,000 for sure, and probably in the 500-ish range, maybe six."
"We're going to have about 500 to 600-ish troops there, at the end of the day. We're still moving troops out of northeastern Syria," Esper told reporters during a flight to the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command Wednesday.
Speaking with reporters en route to U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, Esper said the withdrawal of troops is consistent with the essence of the Syria mission, which is the "enduring defeat of ISIS."
On Wednesday Esper said denying ISIS access to oil fields denies them to a source of revenue.
"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," Esper said. "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."
Esper demurred when asked whether the mission enables the Kurds to sell oil to Assad, saying, "I'm not sure how the oil market works in Syria."