Christopher Woody — Business Insider June 6, 2017
US-led coalition forces destroyed what were reportedly pro-Syrian regime forces near al Tanf in southeast Syria on Tuesday, Operation Inherent Resolve officials said in a release.
According to the release, pro-Assad forces, consisting of a tank, artillery, antiaircraft weapons, armed technical vehicles, and more than 60 troops, entered the “well-established de-confliction zone.”
That zone covers a 34-mile radius around al Tanf, which is located near the intersection of the Syrian, Iraqi, and Jordanian borders.
“The Coalition issued several warnings via the de-confliction line prior to destroying two artillery pieces, an anti-aircraft weapon, and damaging a tank,” the release said.
This is the second time in a month that coalition forces have engaged pro-regime forces around al Tanf, where coalition advisers train local partners (and where US and partner forces repulsed a fierce ISIS attack in April).
On May 18, coalition airstrikes targeted pro-Assad forces “that were advancing well inside an established de-confliction zone” northeast of al Tanf, US Central Command said in a release at the time. The strike came after unsuccessful Russian efforts to stop the movements, a show of force by coalition aircraft, and warning shots.
Defense Department spokesman Eric Pahon told Bloomberg at the end of May that the US was not turning its attention to Assad’s forces.
“This is not a new policy,” he said of the May 18 strike. “Now that they’ve backed off, we’re not going after them,” though, he said, the US “would certainly respond as necessary” to protect partner forces in the area.
The area around al Tanf in southeast Syria looks to be a potential flashpoint going forward, as ISIS’ territorial control in Syria erodes and combatants in the country — the US-led coalition and its partners as well as the Assad regime and its partners, backed by Iran — try to position themselves to take control of spaces the terror group leaves behind.
The area from al Tanf north to Sinjar in northwest Iraq “is now being contested by various belligerents on behalf of their regional sponsors,” according to Fabrice Balanche, a French expert on Syria and visiting fellow at the Washington Institute on Near East Policy.
Intelligence sources have told Reuters that the coalition’s presence near al Tanf is meant to keep Iranian-backed forces from securing an overland route between Syria and Iraq.
And in May , Western-backed Syrian rebels said Russian jets bombed them to stop their push to capture a checkpoint on the Damascus-Baghdad highway near the Syrian borders with Iraq and Jordan.
Increased activity in eastern Syria has prompted Washington and Moscow to set up a deconfliction hotline to avert potential confrontations.
“Anything can happen,” Pahon told Bloomberg. “This is the most complicated battle-space anybody has ever known.”