US boosts force in oil-rich east Syria, crosses regime checkpoints

A US military vehicle drives near a checkpoint controlled by Syrian government forces in the northeastern city of Qamishli (AFP Photo/Delil SOULEIMAN) (AFP)

Qamishli (Syria) (AFP) - Washington has started to send reinforcements to oil-rich eastern Syria, a US defence official said Saturday, as a military convoy flying American flags crossed into the war-torn country from Iraq.

The official told AFP that Washington has begun reinforcing positions in Deir Ezzor province with extra military assets in coordination with Kurdish fighters of the Syrian Democratic Forces.

The aim was to prevent the Islamic State group and other actors from gaining access to oil fields in an area of Syria that was once under jihadist control, he said, decling to elaborate.

His comments came as a convoy of around 13 military vehicles crossed into Syria from Iraq, heading to Hassakeh province, an AFP correspondent said.

It passed regime checkpoints and drove through the city of Qamishli, de facto capital of Washington's Kurdish allies, the correspondent said.

Some 200 US troops are already stationed in Deir Ezzor but President Donald Trump this month ordered an American pullout from Syria's northern border, paving the way for a long-feared Turkish invasion.

Trump last week said a "small number" of US troops would stay to secure the oil, changing the rationale for his country's involvement in the war.

Russia responded on Saturday by accusing the United States of "international banditry."

"What Washington is currently doing -- seizing and placing under control the oil fields of eastern Syria -- is simply international banditry," Russia's defence ministry said.

It said Syria's oil resources did not belong to IS and "even less to US defenders against Islamic State terrorists, but exclusively to the Syrian Arab Republic".