Coalition Forces Reinforce at Key Tanf Garrison in Syria
US -backed rebels took Tanf from the Islamic State previous year, and regional intelligence sources say they mean to use it as a launchpad to capture Bukamai, a town on Syria’s border with Iraq and an important jihadist supply route.
Despite repeated warnings, the small group of fighters about 17 miles northwest of the Tanf base have not moved outside the established non-conflict zone, which extends about 35 miles around the outpost near the Jordanian border, said Army Col. Ryan Dillon, spokesman for the Operation Inherent Resolve coalition.
On May 18, coalition jets launched a strike against a pro-regime convoy that had trespassed into the deconfliction zone after that convoy refused to react to a show-of-force flyover and warning shots.
The Pentagon describes the pro-Syrian-government forces as Iranian-backed. CENTCOM contends these groups are anti-ISIS fighters, but in the past they have fought against the Assad regime.
PMF Deputy Commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, speaking to Iraqi al-Ahad TV, called the cross-border cooperation “a natural right for Iraqi military forces, including the PMF… to defend the security of Iraq… from the sources of terrorism outside its border”.
There has not been another incident between US and pro-regime forces near Tanf since May 18, despite the increasing level of tension.
Dillon estimated that a small number of Iran-backed forces had remained inside a so-called “deconfliction” zone meant to ensure the safety of US -led coalition forces since a May 18 USA strike on their advancing formation.
On the Tanf front, the presence of USA -backed rebels known as Jaysh Maghawir al-Thawra, as well as US and British Special Forces, who are preparing opposition groups for upcoming battles against ISIS, has complicated attempts to reach the border.
Al-Tanf, on the key highway connecting Damascus with Baghdad, has been menaced by a surge of Iran-backed troops loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
This leaves pro-government forces with only the southeastern route from Palmyra toward border areas roughly 100 km northeast of Tanf, where Iranian-backed groups could link up with PMF forces traversing down the frontier toward areas in Iraq’s western Anbar province.
Forces outside the deconfliction zone are continuing to mass and are actively patrolling the area, he said. “A real linkup would require much more substantial gains for the regime and its allies pushing east”.