Bombing US garrison at al-Tanf is a Russian warning, not only a “message”

Colonel Muhannad al-Talaa, commander of the Maghawir al-Thawra Army, with a number of elements in the aftermath of the attack on the faction’s headquarters in the al-Tanf garrison - 16 June 2022 (Maghawir al-Thawra / Facebook)

Colonel Muhannad al-Talaa, commander of the Maghawir al-Thawra Army, with a number of elements in the aftermath of the attack on the faction’s headquarters in the al-Tanf garrison - 16 June 2022 (Maghawir al-Thawra / Facebook)


Enab Baladi – Mamoun al-Bustani

The bombing of Maghawir al-Thawra positions at al-Tanf garrison left minor damages on 15 June, without reports of casualties, as the American-backed faction described the bombing as ‘unjust’ on its Facebook page.

The bombing was intended to strike the local rebel faction despite the presence of units of the US-led International Coalition forces (ICF), which are stationed at the garrison in what is known as the “55-km” area near the Syrian-Iraqi-Jordanian border triangle in southeastern Syria.

Who is responsible?

No party has claimed responsibility for targeting the headquarters of the Maghawir al-Thawra, and the US-led International Coalition has not issued any official statement regarding the targeting until writing this report, and the statements were ambiguous, but they refer to a Russian role.

Western media reports stated that the Russian forces carried out the attack on the al-Tanf garrison. The notification by Russia came through the long-standing bilateral deconfliction line that has operated for several years.

Russia warned the US

Nafiseh Kohnavard, the BBC correspondent in the Middle East, said in a tweet on her official Twitter account on 16 June, quoting an unnamed military official, that the “Russian military alerted US-led Coalition of planned airstrikes on the US-backed Maghawir al-Thawra positions in a Tanf claiming it was “in response to MaT fighters planting a roadside bomb that resulted in Russian mil casualties.”

“Russia warned the US military earlier this week that it was going to conduct airstrikes against local fighters allied with the US in southeastern Syria,” CNN said, quoting two US defense officials.

“That led the US to quickly warn the fighters to move their positions and also ensure that no US forces were nearby. US forces did not have to move, as they were far enough away, but the local fighters did,” the officials told CNN.

The US officials told CNN that the Russians claimed the group had conducted a roadside bomb attack against Russian forces. The US believes that did not happen, and the Russians simply used it as a reason to conduct airstrikes.

“Sending a message”

This kind of Russian provocation is rare but not unprecedented, according to the US officials who spoke to CNN.

The initial US assessment is that the Russian forces were likely ordered to notify the US ahead of time and conduct the airstrikes knowing they would not hit US troops and that the Americans would warn their allies, the officials said.

But the Russians still likely achieved their goal of “sending a message” to the US that they can strike without being worried about retaliation, one official told CNN.

Russian retaliation

Brigadier-General Abdullah al-Assaad, a military expert, told Enab Baladi that as a result of the presence of more than 400 foreign military bases in Syria and the failure to fortify the Syrian airspace from all forms of aviation, we sometimes hear that the bombing of a site was carried out by unknown aircraft.

Regarding the possibility that the Russian forces were the ones who bombed the al-Tanf base, al-Assaad said that there is tension between the Maghawir al-Thawra faction and the Russian forces deployed in the Syrian Badia.

He explained that when the Russian forces evaluate their losses in that area, they can hold the Maghawir al-Thawra’s commandos responsible, which is what often happened in the last incident, as Russia claims that the faction planted mines that caused material damage and human losses to the ranks of the Russian forces.

Al-Assaad indicated that the Russian decision to launch air raids on the sites of the Maghawir al-Thawra is nothing but a retaliatory response and a message to the faction for not approaching the Russian forces that participate with the Syrian regime forces and Iranian militias in the operations in the Syrian Badia.

Russia’s red line

Russia does not give much importance to any bombing targeting the regime forces or even the formations supported by it in Syria, according to al-Assaad, but it has a red line that it does not allow crossing, which is bombing any site where there are regular Russian forces, such as the Russian Hmeimim base in Latakia, and the Qamishli Military Airport in al-Hasakah, and other sites that house Russian forces.

In the event that Russian forces are targeted, the response will be immediate, and in this case, Russia changes the rules of engagement, says al-Assaad, who believes that changing the rules of engagement between the US and Russian forces in Syria due to the Russian targeting of the Maghawir al-Thawra “is not likely to happen.”

On the other hand, al-Assaad considered that the US forces can change the rules of engagement if they are exposed to any friction that affects their security, so they always send signals and precautionary messages not to approach their bases in Syria by bringing in reinforcements and conducting military maneuvers.

Not first provocation

This is not the first time that the American garrison in the al-Tanf region has been targeted, as it was subjected, in October 2021, to a missile attack that did not result in casualties.

A military official in the US Central Command said at the time that the al-Tanf garrison was subjected to a missile attack without causing any casualties, noting that initial assessments suspected that Iranian-backed militias had targeted the base.

Later that month, US officials stated that Iran was behind the drone attack on the al-Tanf garrison.

The American Politico newspaper reported that America believed that Iran provided resources and encouraged the attack but that the drones were not launched from Iran.

The officials said that they were Iranian drones and that Iran appeared to have facilitated their use, noting that the attacks included up to five drones loaded with explosive devices and that they hit both the American side of the al-Tanf garrison and the side where the Syrian opposition forces are located.

On 17 December 2021, a British Royal Air Force plane shot down a drone that it considered a threat to the coalition forces at al-Tanf base.

The British Ministry of Defense said at the time that a Royal Air Force Typhoon had shot down a drone that posed a threat to the International Coalition Forces at al-Tanf base.

Al-Tanf base is located 24 kilometers to the west of the al-Tanf border crossing at the Syrian-Iraqi-Jordanian border triangle in Homs governorate.

There are 597 foreign military bases in Syria, according to a study prepared by the Jusoor Center for Studies at the end of 2021. Homs governorate’s share of these bases is 51 bases, most of which are under Iranian command.


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