The Pentagon ordered a company-sized element of U.S. Marines to conduct an aerial assault drill near a small U.S. base in southeastern Syria called the At Tanf garrison amid new concerns of Russian operations nearby.
Reports said that the Russian military has utilized a deconfliction hotline a number of times over the past week to warn the U.S. military of upcoming Russian and Syrian military operations aimed at destroying the last pocket of rebels from the Idlib region.
Russian and Syrian operations are bringing their forces close to the 55 km deconfliction bubble surrounding the Tanf garrison, where dozens of American troops are located.
“The Russians informed the U.S. on Sept 1, via the deconfliction line, that they intended to enter the At Tanf deconfliction zone to pursue terrorists,” Army Lt. Col. Earl Brown, a spokesman for U.S. Central Command, told Marine Corps Times in a statement. “The Russians indicated via a written note on Sept. 6, that they would make precision strikes in the At Tanf deconfliction zone against terrorists.”
Brown said U.S. military officials “advised” Russia to steer clear of the deconfliction zone, adding that American forces did not need assistance to battle remaining elements of ISIS in areas around the Tamf.
As concerns rose that Syrian, Russian, and U.S. forces could come into contact with the zone, the Pentagon ordered the contingent of Marines to the area to conduct a rapid deployment exercise.
“Our forces will demonstrate the capability to deploy rapidly, assault a target with integrated air and ground forces, and conduct a rapid exfiltration anywhere in the OIR combined joint operations area,” Navy Capt. Bill Urban, a spokesman for U.S. Central Command, said in a command release Friday. “Exercises like this bolster our defeat-ISIS capabilities and ensure we are ready to respond to any threat to our forces.”
Analysis: The situation in Syria is the most serious it’s been in months.
As Russian and Syrian forces prepare to ‘liberate’ the remaining parts of the country from rebel control, they are getting dangerously close to a base that the U.S. will not abandon and has vowed to defend, if necessary.
It’s unlikely that Syria and Russia are attempting to goad the U.S. into an armed response, but it’s possible that President Putin is seeking some ‘payback’ against American forces following the U.S.-led route of Russian mercenaries in February, in which hundreds were killed.
If Putin and Syrian President Assad had any questions about President Trump’s resolve to defend American interests in the region, this Marine ‘exercise’ provides a decisive answer.