The Pentagon is facing tough questions about the USA military's role in Syria. Troops are now limited to a smaller, tougher to defend zone, and focused on protecting oil fields that legally belong to Damascus.
During a news conference announcing the death of Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in a USA raid last month, President Donald Trump had raised the possibility of American oil companies taking over the oilfields in northeastern Syria, now operated by the SDF.
"It is time for us to get out of these ridiculous Endless Wars, many of them tribal, and bring our soldiers home", he tweeted.
But a month later, the United States has more or less the same number of personnel on the ground. The expanded mission to secure Syria's oil posed questions as to whether the USA military had the legal right to defend against attacks from Syrian, Russian, or other forces should they threaten the oil fields, according to the AP.
The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, a key U.S. ally in the military campaign against the IS group, at first felt betrayed by Washington's decision to pull back, but have resumed cooperating with USA troops, Byrne added.
Later Hoffman was asked by a reporter if "President Trump [has] legal authority to take over these oil fields or is the United States stealing the oil?"
The briefing came less than two weeks after Defense Secretary Mark Esper said, "That's our mission, to secure the oil fields" in the Deir ez-Zor area of eastern Syria.
Some former officials and analysts have questioned the extent of the threat IS now poses to the oil fields, arguing the larger danger comes from Syrian government forces, Russian Federation and even Turkey.
"The mission is to defeat ISIS", Byrne said. Byrne claimed that the US has been waging the oil field control mission alongside SDF and that the goal was to prevent ISIS from obtaining the oil revenue.
"The Oil Fields discussed in my speech on Turkey/Kurds yesterday were held by ISIS until the United States took them over with the help of the Kurds".
Hoffman said ISIS is not eliminated, rather, it's weakened from what it once was. "Everybody seems to believe that has changed. That is not the case".
After the September 11, 2001 attacks, the US Congress authorized the executive branch to conduct unlimited military operations to combat terrorism.
The president has always been a proponent of the idea of controlling Syria's oil fields. President Donald Trump's comments before and after that remark -"We're going to be protecting [the oil], and we'll be deciding what we're going to do with it in the future", and "The oil. can help us, because we should be able to take some"- were seized on by critics who claimed Trump was suggesting violating worldwide law by plundering another country's resources and openly saying the USA was pursuing war for oil. "This is going to the SDF".