In an effort to continue the implementation of Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR) and bolster the strength of U.S.-backed Syrian forces, officials want to continue to train and increase the number of allied fighters. As a part of this effort, according to OIR’s Inspector General (IG) report, there is a push to build an “Oilfield Guard Unit,” comprised of over 2,200 men.
The northeastern region of Syria is home to expansive oilfields. These require protection against ISIS and foreign fighters. Denying ISIS access to the oilfields is crucial since, on average, the fields can generate between $1 million to $3 million dollars a day.
Crucially, the decision to guard the oilfields comes at the same time as an agreement to export oil out of the region was openly established between Delta Crescent Energy LLC, a Delaware based company, and Kurdish backed authorities in Syria. Needless to say, Syria’s Foreign Ministry does not approve of this agreement and claimed that the deal was illegal and was nothing more than a way to steal Syrian oil.
According to the IG’s report, Allied Syrians have increased their “security presence near major oil and gas fields in northeastern Syria.” In these locations, they have “remained co-located with Coalition forces whose protection SDF (Syrian Democratic Forces) leaders still depend on.” For example, a small group of Special Operators is working out of al-Tanf, a small operating base located in Syria, near the border of Iraq and Jordan. There, it has been training a local unit called Mughawir al-Thawra.
According to an Army times article, part of OIR’s mission and purpose is to provide support to the SDF units in the central, southern, and eastern regions of the country. These units work hand-in-hand with the Internal Security Forces (InSF) and the Provincial Security Forces (PRISF).
The InSF operate much like a police force. Their main responsibilities are to control traffic and man security checkpoints. Currently, the have 11,200 members. The force’s desired number is 28,200, according to the IG’s report.
The “Oilfield Guard” will fall under the responsibility of the PRISF. Since March, half of the “Oilfield Guard” force has been trained. This specialized security force is trained and qualified in providing static and dynamic security, conducting surveillance, and responding as a quick reaction force if necessary.
Placing the “Oilfield Guard” under PRISF’s responsibility is a sensible decision since the PRISF is tasked with providing border security, along with guarding the prisons where ISIS and other extremist fighters are held. The IG’s report further claimed that the goal is to grow the PRISF to a 22,000 person force.
The Syrian prison facilities, where ISIS and foreign fighters are held, are grim. There are over 10,000 ISIS members and 2,000 foreign fighters incarcerated there. Most of the fighters remain in these prisons due to the fact that their home countries are unable or unwilling to extradite and prosecute them. Many riots have been reported. Prisoners are demanding family visits and trials.
The state of the prisons is a growing concern. According to the report, “While no escapes [have been] reported during [the] riots, CJTF-OIR said that ‘the risk of a mass breakout cannot be discounted.'”