ERBIL, Iraq — A convoy of U.S. military vehicles has crossed the border from Iraq and made its way across northeastern Syria in an effort to prevent oil fields from falling into the hands of ISIS, NBC News has confirmed.
The U.S. has begun reinforcing its positions in the Deir ez-Zor region in coordination with its partners in the Kurdish-led Syrian Defense Forces and with additional military assets to prevent oil fields from coming under the control of ISIS or other destabilizing actors, according to a U.S. defense official.
"We will not discuss details or timelines of those forces for security reasons," the official said
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Two sources inside Syria have independently confirmed that they witnessed a U.S. military convoy traveling toward Deir ez-Zour.
The convoy was composed primarily of lightly armored vehicles, commonly used by U.S. special operations forces operating in Syria. Several of the vehicles were flying large American flags, and were accompanied overhead by attack helicopters, eyewitnesses said.
One source in the border town of Qamishli said that a convoy of military vehicles with U.S. flags had passed through town, and exited southward toward Al Hasakah.
A separate source in Hasakah said a convoy of U.S. military vehicles had entered that city from the north, and had exited that city on the south side, heading toward Deir ez-Zour.
The development comes two days after a senior defense official told NBC News that President Donald Trump was briefed by Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Army Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, on the importance of securing the oil fields so they can't be seized and used to fund ISIS' terrorist activities.
The senior defense official said Marine Gen. Frank McKenzie, the head of U.S. Central Command, was working with a number of options, among them sending tanks to the region, deploying forces pulled from an armored brigade. An additional consideration was the possible use of air assets to support ground forces.
Trump signaled the possible action in an address from the White House on Wednesday when he said, "We're going to be protecting" Syrian oil fields.
Kube is reporting from Erbil, Iraq. Bishop is reporting from Mardin, Turkey.