On September 13th, US Marines finalized eight days of unprecedented military exercises with Syrian militants near the southern Syrian city of al-Tanf, in an attempt to send Russia and Iran a “strong message,” according to military officials cited by PressTV.
Colonel Sean Ryan, a US military spokesman, described the drills as “a show of force,” saying that the Pentagon had notified Russia through “deconfliction” channels to prevent “miscommunication or escalate tension.”
“The exercise was conducted to reinforce our capabilities and ensure we are ready to respond to any threat to our forces within our area of operations,’” he noted.
Reuters also cited Colonel Muhanad al Talaa, commander, of the Pentagon-backed Maghawir al Thawra group, who on September 13th said that the rare military exercises with US Marines in southern Syria sent a strong message to Russia and Iran that the Americans and the militants intend to stay and confront any threats to their presence.
He was further cited as saying that the eight days of drills that ended this week at the US military outpost in al-Tanf were the first such exercises with live-fire air and ground assault, involving hundreds of U.S. troops and militants.
“These exercises have a big importance and have beefed up the defences of the area and raised the combat capabilities and morale and that of civilians in the area,” Talaa told Reuters by phone from al-Tanf, which is located near the Syrian border with Iraq.
As reported by Reuters, Russia and the Syrian government have repeatedly called on Washington to pull out its troops from Tanf base, where it has declared a 35-mile-radius “deconfliction zone” off-limits to others.
“We are staying whether the Russians or Iranians want or not,” the militant commander added.
According to Reuters, the militants said the US military’s new policy to bolster Tanf’s capabilities is a big shift. “The American position has changed completely towards the Iranians. Before it was just putting a line to the Iranians not to approach the areas,” Talaa added.
According to Reuters, Talaa also claimed that “Tehran’s failure to end its military presence in Syria could provoke a U.S. military response.”
“If Tehran does not respond to the demands of the Americans there is a big likelihood they will be hit. It’s inevitable the Iranians leave Syria. This should happen quickly and in a decisive way,” he added.
Sputnik cited remarks by a spokesperson for the US-led coalition’s Operation Inherent Resolve against ISIS that said “there is no terrorist camp within the al-Tanf de-confliction zone, which runs in a 35-mile diameter around the coalition’s al-Tanf Garrison.”
Middle East Eye cited militant sources who said that hundreds of US Marines arrived this month in Tanf to join special operations troops already based in the garrison and participate in the drills, amid heightened US-Russian tensions in Syria and a naval buildup in the Mediterranean.
The outlet cited Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem has described the US military presence in the country as illegal, insisting that the American forces should withdraw from its base in al-Tanf.
Sputnik further cited Bashar Jaafari, head of the Syrian government delegation to the Astana peace talks, who in May 2018 called the US military presence in al-Tanf and nearby Rukban refugee camp in the south of the country a “pure aggression and occupation.”
Sputnik reported that the US currently occupies a 35-mile zone around its base in al-Tanf, where it has been training Syrian opposition forces since 2016. According to the outlet, the base has come under criticism by Damascus, Moscow and Tehran and they have expressed concerns that Washington “spewing Daesh [ISIS] mobile groups who make inroads to launch subversive terrorist operations against Syrian troops and civilians.”
PressTV reported that despite criticism, the US has so far refused to pull its forces out, and even moved to deploy hundreds of more marines in al-Tanf in earlier September 2018.
The new forces have reportedly joined “special operations troops already based in the garrison” and participated in the drills.
On September 7th, CNN cited several US military officials as having said that Russia had warned the Pentagon twice in the past weeks that its forces, together with Syrian troops, were prepared to wage an attack on terrorists in the area where dozens of US troops are stationed – including those in the al-Tanf garrison.
US military officials “bluntly warned Russia and Syria not to go forward with an attack within a 35-mile-wide security zone that the US maintains around Tanf,” Task & Purpose further reported.