Early on June 16, a series of airstrikes hit positions of US-backed Maghaweir al-Thowra (MaT) in the southeastern Syrian area of al-Tanf, where the US-led coalition maintains a garrison.
A US military official told BBC journalist Nafiseh Kohnavard that the airstrikes were carried out by warplanes from the Russian Aerospace Forces (VKS) in response an attack with a roadside bomb that resulted in Russian military casualties. The unnamed official said that Russia blamed MaT for the attack. The US-led coalition was alerted ahead of the airstrikes.
MaT shared photos showing the aftermath of the Russian airstrikes on Twitter. The group claimed that the airstrikes resulted in some material losses only.
Around 200 US troops and 300 MaT are usually present in al-Tanf garrison, which was supposedly established to counter ISIS.
The US-led coalition maintains a 55-kilometer no-fly zone around the garrison. Despite this, VKS warplanes conduct reconnaissance sorties over the area on a regular basis.
Between March and May, Syrian government troops around al-Tanf came under attack on several occasions. While some of the attacks were attributed to ISIS, which is known to be present within the 55-kilometer zone, others were attributed to the MaT.
MaT recent activities were not limited to the 55-kilometer zone and its surroundings. Over the past year, MaT built relations with an armed faction in the southeastern Syrian governorate of al-Suwayda. The faction, which was known as the Counter Terrorism Force, was neutralized by pro-government forces earlier this month. The faction’s militants fell into an ambush while attempting to flee towards al-Tanf garrison. Its leader was killed in the ambush.
Aside from its destabilizing activities, MaT is allegedly involved in the trafficking of arms, tobacco products and even drugs between Syria, Jordan and Iraq.
The Russian airstrikes on al-Tanf appear to be more of a warning to the US-led coalition and its proxy, who continue to use the area as a forward base for sabotage. Unrest around the area could soon developed to a confrontation.