Fate of U.S. Syrian base in question

The coalition base at Tanf, located in the desolate Syrian Desert near the borders of Iraq, Syria and Jordan, has served as a training camp for anti-ISIS Syrian rebel fighters since 2016. But the garrison’s status is now merky after Assad’s regime, backed by Russian airpower, launched a major offensive in southern Syria.

Images posted online show the base’s relatively small size. But its area of influence is much larger, including a surrounding 55 km. “deconfliction” zone in which regime forces, Iranian- backed militias and other groups are prohibited from entering. Rumors online now posit that when US President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin meet in Helsinki later this week they will discuss the fate of the Tanf base.

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Sputnik news agency Tuesday ran a report Mikhael Alaeddin filed from the front near Tanf. “We spoke of Syria’s peaceful future, and Russia’s role in the victory over terrorism. Finally, our column [of troops] makes it to the last [Syrian government] strong point.

A local commander greets us, pointing with his index finger, it’s six kilometers to Iraq and 55 km. to the US base at al-Tanf.” Clearly the Damascus regime, together with its Moscow backers and Iranian supporters, wants to regain Tanf.

For now, the American- supported coalition isn’t budging. The office of the Combined Joint Task Force, Operation Inherent Resolve responded to a Jerusalem Post inquiry Monday. Although it won’t discuss current operations or divulge troop strength, “What we can tell you is that there has been no recent movement of any significant number of Coalition troops or partner forces into or out of at-Tanf garrison.

We position the appropriate number and type of forces in the right place at the optimal time to ensure we accomplish our primary mission: the lasting defeat of [ISIS],” it said.

Former US ambassador to Syria Robert Ford wrote at the Middle East Institute this week that in Washington, policymakers in the administration plan to retain the Tanf base until Iran withdraws its fighters from Syria.

“Russian foreign ministry officials keep saying that their [Iran’s] presence is reasonable, and Syria and Iran will not trade Tanf for withdrawal of Iranian forces.”

Assad has claimed Iran doesn’t have troops in Syria, so the regime is unlikely to agree to any sort of deal about Iran’s withdrawal. The Russians, meanwhile, will insist the US leave s