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Has America Started Dismantling Al-Tanf Base?

US troops training on combating the “Islamic State”, al-Tanf base at the Syrian-Iraqi borders -  22 November 2017 (US Department of Defense)

US troops training on combating the “Islamic State”, al-Tanf base at the Syrian-Iraqi borders -  22 November 2017 (US Department of Defense)

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Late in May, the US-base of al-Tanf, located at the border triangle shared by Syria, Iraq and Jordan, became the central idea around which many discussions revolved, in sync with studying the future of the areas in Southern Syria and whether an American-Russian agreement about it is actually being considered.

The base which America administrates depending on the “Free Army” factions occupies a prominent political and military position and is at the same time a fundamental tool with its ability to change the on-ground equation, in the Syrian desert particularly, which Iran seeks to turn into a safe passage, since the Tehran-Damascus road passes through it.

The fate of the base is linked to the developments in Daraa governorate, for the Syrian regime, in a speech by the Foreign Affairs Minister Walid Muallem, has related its future to that of Daraa and Quneitra, saying that no deal will be conducted about Southern Syria without the Americans’ withdrawal from the “al-Tanf” Base, in addition to former statements that the American forces do not have a legal status in Syria, and they have to retreat from al-Tanf and other Syrian areas.

Walid Muallem’s statement came as a reaction to what have been repeatedly reported by media outlets about an agreement that joins America, Israel and Russia, which stipulates that Iranian supported militias must stay away from the southern borders.

Going back to last September, Russia has sealed an agreement as not to approach Iran-backed militias, keeping a distance of five kilometers from the southern borders, after it refused Israel and America’s demand of keeping the militias 50 to 70 kilometers away from the borders, fearing that Iran might attack Israel.

Iran Chooses the Fence As A Position

It seems that Iran and its allies want to exchange their retreat from Southern Syria with positioning their troops at the Syrian eastern borders. Iraqi media outlets have published a number of photos from inside the Intelligence Center at the Iraqi capital Baghdad, on April 19, of a meeting that brought together Russian, Iranian, Iraqi and Syrian military officials in an overeat declaration on the part of the four States of an alternative coalition that challenges the interests of America, which leads a coalition of 20 Sates, formed to combat the “Islamic State”.

The meeting coincided with intense raids conducted by the “F16” Iraqi aircraft, alongside the Russian and Syrian air forces that targeted positions in the Syrian desert, in a response to the “Islamic State’s” sudden return.

Since the US-led coalition announcement of its military operations against the “Islamic State” in 2014, the allied States implemented thousands of air raids. However, Russia’s involvement in the battles of eastern rural Homs, reaching Deir ez-Zor, accompanied by the Iran-backed militias and Assad’s forces, ended with the Syrian regime’s control over wide areas, unlike America’s intervention, as a leader of the international coalition, in the desert battles which failed to achieve field gains.

Last week, Assad’s forces and allies seized the “Islamic State’s” enclave, located between the city of Abu Kamal and al-Tanf crossing, where the US-base is positioned.

The “Military Media” reported that Assad’s forces controlled about 2500 square meters, to the east of the city of al-Sukhnah and extending to the Iraqi borders, becoming in direct contact with a space of 55 kilometers, the area which America warned against approaching, waging a threat of destruction.

The “Islamic State” is yet in control of a small area to the south of the city of Mayadin, rural Deir ez-Zor, besieged in a desert enclave and alienated from the Iraqi borders, while the US-base “al-Tanf” persists to be a source of worry to the Syrian regime and Iran’s interests at the Syrian-Iraqi borders.

 

Tension Marks Relations

The battles which Assad’s forces and allied militias run in the Syrian desert have surrounded “al-Tanf” Base from the Syrian regime’s side. This came in Sync with the tension that highlighted the American and Iraqi relations, in the shadow of the “Popular Mobilization Forces” control over the Iraqi side, opposing the al-Tanf Base, triggering the American forces to target the “Popular Mobilization Forces” several times, the last of which was on June 18, in return for which the “Mobilization Forces” officially threatened the American forces’ positions in Iraq.

Despite the “Militias” persistent attempts at progress towards the “al-Tanf” Us-Base, they failed due to the repeated US raids.

On June 21, gunmen under the militias backing the Syrian regime shot two consultants of the “US-led coalition” and the ” Revolutionary Commando Army” near the “al-Tanf” US-base at the Syrian-Iraqi borders, but there were no casualties. The American air force responded immediately and launched a raid, through which it destroyed a position controlled by militias, baking the Syrian regime, in the al-A’lyaniah town, to the west of the al-Tanf base.

The Syrian regime and its allies are not expected to undertake a direct attack on the US-base, but America’s intentions to withdraw its troops from “al-Tanf” are related to its reluctance to suffer the burden of their presence in the area by limiting the base’s role and importance to America in the area.

As pointed above, the nature of the American military base in “al-Tanf” shows that its main role in relation to the United States lies in its presence in the Syrian and Iraqi desert, which America will be utilizing by turning the base into a card to negotiate and pressure the Syrian regime, Russia and Iran as to protect Israel’s security and their mutual interests.

To the day, the Syrian regime and its allies do not have a direct manner to eliminate the American base in “al-Tanf” and to put a limit to the obstacle it represents to the interests of Iran and Russia, which seek to minimize America’s role in that vital position; the American presence also handicaps the Iranian and Syrian interests, which explains the Syrian regime and it’s allies launch of a parallel attack to get rid of the military base by triggering military confrontations towards areas in which America has influence and to pressure Israel by dragging its ally to the diplomatic conflict.

Did US Start Dismantling the Base?

The Russian Official News Agency has quoted the Ministry of Defense, on June 28, as saying that Moscow did not exit the “de-escalation” agreement in Southern Syria. This followed a meeting between the Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov and the National Security Advisor of the United States John R. Bolton.

Jordan, after convincing Israel, has offered new arrangements to the United States about the situation in Southern Syria, seeking to contain the inflating situation in the area.

The military base of “al-Tanf”, established by US in 2014, is considered the “backbone” of any reconciliation agreement in the “de-scalation” zones in Southern Syria, for America is negotiating dismantling the base following distancing the Iran-backed militias from the Jordanian borders and spreading Russian forces, as well as coming up with an evaluation mechanism to follow up the implementation process.

Prior to the formation of “al-Tanf” Base, Jordan stopped receiving Syrian refugees and prevented them from entering its land, which led to the creation of random camps of thousands of tents, most of which are inhabitable, especially taking the desert’s nature into account, in addition to the tragic conditions under which the people in al-Rukban Camp are enduring, despite al-Azraq camp which UN has opened as to accommodate thousands of refugees.

The surprising spread of the US-led coalition forces near the Al-Qa’im border crossing at the Iraqi Syrian borders, on June 25, has opened the door for a number of questions about the fate of the “al-Tanf” military base.

In a report, the Russian “Svobodnaya Pressa” said that the siege that Assad’s forces and allies are imposing on the US-base will lead America to leave the area, which also developed fear of Eastern Syria’s people rebellion, especially that it ignored the Arab tribes in al-Hasakah, Raqqa and Deir ez-Zor and failed to create an alliance with them.

Unstable Infrastructure

The nature of the military base does not point that America intends to stay for a long time in the area, for it is fundamentally made of dunes and earth mounds, unlike the military bases is Northern Syria, in a few which airfields were constructed.

America justified building the base in 2014 with its aim to train the opposition’s troops and later on it established the “New Syrian Army”. However, the lack of a serious training was soon obvious and, similarly, the arming process of the opposition if compared to the support which the “Syrian Democratic Forces” in Northern Syria have received.

The “New Syrian Army” later came to be called the “Revolutionary Commando Army” which currently functions as a guardian for the American presence in the base, as well as the protector of the displaced people in the al-Rukban camp, near the base, in the middle of the desert at the borders with Jordan.

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