al-tanf is a growing problem


"The Syrian Arab Army (SAA) continued slowly advancing the Bir Qasab and Al-Dakwa in the desert east of the Syrian capital of Damascus.

Furthermore, warplanes of the Russian and Syrian air forces continued targeting US-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) militants in the area aiming to force them to withdraw from the area.

The US-led coalition announced it had reinforced its forces in the Al-Tanf area on the Syrian-Iraqi border. The coalition also said that it views the “Iranian-backed forces” as a threat to its troops in Syria, which are fighting ISIS.

According to the commander of Jaish Maghawir al-Thawra, Muhannad al-Tala, there are currently 150 US soldiers in the Al-Tanf, along with soldiers from five other countries of the US-led coalition, including two Arab countries.

According to unconfirmed reports, Syrian government forces are currently located 40 kilometers from the town of Al-Tanf.

It is believed that the current priority of the SAA is to secure the capital Damascus through regaining control of Al-Dakwa and Bir Qasab.

Later, Syrian forces might attempt to advance toward the Iraqi border by capturing ISIS-held areas in northern Al-Tanf instead of confronting with US forces."  southfront


Mattis or someone else at the national command level has decided to reinforce US coalition forces at the base near al-tanf.  It would seem that the idea is to retain control of SE Syria for the purpose of training local forces to use against the Syrian government.   IS forces in the area seem implausible as the projected enemy for these forces trained at al-tanf.  The R+6 is fighting IS just north of al-tanf.  If IS forces were the projected enemy the logical US coalition attitude would be to cooperate with R+6.  pl


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26 Responses to al-tanf is a growing problem

  1. Barbara Ann says:

    I’m not sure I’d agree with the title of this post (unless it is from the US POV) as I can’t yet see a material changed in the standoff. Al-Tanf has been reinforced, but the fundamental situation seems to be the same: If one side’s proxies initiates a significant engagement against the other it risks killing the opposition’s principals (US/NATO and Russian SOF respectively). If it does so, it becomes a legitimate target for a retaliatory response. The side so-attacked will likely respond with significant air power and destroy the aggressor*. It seems to be a classic stalemate; a first mover loses the PR war (both claim to be fighting Daesh only) and so neither party can act.
    *Both air forces operate in the area and neither side appears to be able to deny this ability to the other.
    My own view is that time is on the side of the R+6. The PMU have started to work their way down the Iraqi side of the border. Elijah Magnier speculates on the viability of al-Tanf once the border is closed from the Iraqi side, tho doubtless this will take some time yet:
    The R+6 may also choose to move towards the Iraqi border NE of al-Tanf, as the article says. The R+6 could perhaps even use the FSA’s presence to guard their southern flank from Daesh in such a move. Once the FSA is cut off from Daesh in Syria it’s stated mission is finished and with it any shred of legitimacy for the al-Tanf camp.
    Mattis has lost, he just does not see it yet.

  2. John_Frank says:

    As to the situation in southern Syria from the:
    June 1- Department of Defense Press Briefing by Col. Dillon via teleconference from Baghdad, Iraq
    we learn that:

    And lastly in southern Syria, we have had many questions regarding our operations at At Tanf. The coalition has observed pro-regime forces patrolling in the vicinity of the established de-confliction zone around the At Tanf training site. Coalition forces have operated there for many months training and advising our vetted partner forces in the fight against ISIS. Pro-regime patrols and the continued armed and hostile presence of forces inside the de-confliction zone is unacceptable and threatening to our coalition forces. We are prepared to defend ourselves if pro-regime forces refuse to vacate the de-confliction zone.
    We have communicated our position through the de-confliction line with the Russians, and we have dropped leaflets to the force inside of the de-confliction zone. The coalition is dedicated and focused on the defeat of ISIS. Our partner forces are dedicated and focused on the defeat of ISIS. And we think all parties in southern Syria should remain focused on the defeat of ISIS, which is our common enemy and the greatest threat to the region and worldwide peace and security.

    According to the transcript of the press briefing, Col. Dillon told reporters that the de-confliction zone around the Al Tanf training site was created by way of agreement between the US and Russian militaries.
    People may also wish to read:
    New Details on U.S. Strategy in Iraq and Syria
    Mr. Cordesman, who produced the report, based on his analysis of the DOD budget request for Iraq and Syria titled
    Justification for FY 2018 Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) Counter – ISIS Train And Equip Fund (CTEF)
    writes in part:

    The document focuses more exclusively on aid, does not address any form of conflict resolution or peace settlement, and does not discuss the need to deal with the conflicting interests of Iran, Hezbollah, Russia, or Turkey; does not address the impact of Assad’s gains; the role of Russian forces; the fact that the Vetted Syrian Opposition (VSO) is largely Syrian Kurds; Turkish claims that these Kurds are link to the PKK and terrorism; or the fact the vast majority of Arab rebels are not part of the VDO and are increasingly tied to Islamist extremist factions with links to Al Qa’ida.
    It does, however, cover several key aspects of the U.S. military mission in Syria:
    ◾U.S. advisors will remain deployed forward—near or in the combat forces they support.
    ◾”One element of the DoD strategy to defeat ISIS is to train, equip, sustain, and enable the Vetted Syrian Opposition (VSO) including the Syrian Arab Coalition (SAC). There are approximately 25,000 VSO with an additional 5,000 in growth projected, for a total FY 2018 end strength of approximately 30,000.”
    ◾”These forces are holding areas liberated in FY 2017 and continue to seize and clear additional territory from ISIS. To accomplish U.S. military objectives, the VSO combat losses must be replaced and new VSO must be appropriately equipped with weapons, ammunition, vehicles, equipment and sustainment to maintain operational momentum and security.”
    ◾”The relationship between VSO and U.S. forces is transactional and relies heavily on DoD’s ability to provide weapons, ammunition, and equipment. DoD supports the VSO development into a legitimate and effective force by creating increased capability to effectively defeat ISIS in the Combined Joint Operations Area (CJOA).”
    ◾”The DoD must recruit, vet, train, and equip additional Syrians comprised of related tribes of different sects and ethnic groups of the population to enable them to engage ISIS throughout the battlespace. Success in these efforts helps set the conditions to prevent ISIS from re-taking territory in Syria.”
    ◾As noted earlier, funding is raised from $430 million in FY2017 to $500 million in FY2018.
    ◾”The VSO’s combat effectiveness, movement, and operational tempo are directly linked to U.S. trainers and enablers that advise, assist, and accompany the partner forces. This transactional relationship is reliant upon the DoD’s ability to provide weapons, ammunition, and equipment required for planned objectives. The DoD equips the VSO for immediate counter-ISIS objectives, which mitigates risk that VSO use materiel support for actions beyond U.S. intentions.”
    ◾Arms supplied to the VSO will be relatively light. “Weapons and ammunition estimates are based on operational requirements coupled with lead time for items. Estimates are based on both training and equipping the VSO forces to include resupply during operational mission support. Combat loss estimates are included in quantities required. Estimates are based upon training and equipping the VSO forces to include resupply during operational mission support. Ammunition resupply during tactical missions is essential to defeat ISIS.”
    ◾”Lethal equipment sets may include AK-47s, PKM medium machine guns, and DShK heavy machine guns, as well as mortar systems. This request includes first station destination costs where equipment is palletized for lift into theater….The majority of vehicles are variants that are widely available in the local market. This availability ensures that most can be maintained or repaired from commercial sources inside Syria and from spare parts delivered to the VSO.”
    ◾”The FY 2018 Syria Train and Equip Program request furthers critical efforts accomplished since FY 2015 and is a key component of the strategy to counter ISIS operations in both Syria and abroad. The request provides resourcing to retain the flexibility to support VSO in a very dynamic evolving Unconventional Warfare environment. If the funding for the VSO forces is not provided, U.S. security and stability goals and momentum against ISIS in Syria and the surrounding areas will slow and falter.”
    ◾”There will be a loss of credibility and reluctance of opposition forces and neighboring nations to rely on or trust the United States to meet commitments. It is critical to build on the successes that capable and aggressive VSO forces have already demonstrated to counter ISIS. If not countered, ISIS will continue to recruit extremist elements, including foreign fighters, and export terror to peaceful nations outside of Syria, to include the United States.”

    Could DOD be lying through their teeth, both to the Russians and to Congress? Yes. However, the budget request, based on existing law, clearly states DOD is supporting a Syrian force whose mission is to confront and defeat ISIS and not to push for the military overthrow of the Syrian Government.
    What the CIA is doing with the Free Syrian Army forces in northern and southern Syria is a separate question.
    In somewhat related news:
    Iraq’s Shia force enters Syrian territory despite Kurdish warnings

  3. Bill Herschel says:

    Google Earth, in a map dated “2017”, shows at least 100 18-wheelers lined up on the Syrian side of the border at al-tanf headed toward Iraq. Most of the construction at this border crossing, however, is on the Iraqi side. Interestingly, on the Iraqi side the image has been intentionally blurred.
    Are the “Coalition” forces deployed on the Iraqi side?,+Syria/@33.4333112,37.5077173,7.68z/data=!4m5!3m4!1s0x153e6b39cd7a39c7:0x56992f598f05bb57!8m2!3d33.4324208!4d38.936798
    As a side note, in the controversy over the supposed tapping of the Russian Ambassador’s conversations with Moscow, I think there are two elements in play. One of them is the propaganda value of telling the American public that the U.S. is all-powerful and that we are capable of listening to any conversation we like. I think that element is very much in play in Syria. There would be two reasons to avoid air-to-air combat between the U.S. and Russia in Syria, one of them not losing. When you charge the taxpayers $500 billion a year for defense, you don’t want your defense to appear vulnerable. After all, if you believe that the second reason is avoiding WW III, you don’t want to look like you’re going to lose WW III. Would there really be a rush to the recruiting stations if several U.S. fighters were shot down over Syria? True, it might result in a $600 billion a year defense budget, but I don’t think war fever. The war fever constituency is pretty small in the U.S. Trump proved that.

  4. Ghostship says:

    “Iranian-backed forces” = all pro-Syrian Government forces in Syria except the Russians. Mattis is trying to get his war with Iran on.
    “It will not spiral out of control,” said Mattis fears of military escalation between Russia and the US over Syria.
    “As you know, Secretary of State Tillerson is in Moscow. We maintain communications with the Russian military and with the diplomatic channels. It will not spiral out of control,” Mattis continued.
    When pressed by the questioner on how he was so confident that Russia would not follow through with its threats of reprisal if the US strikes Syria again, Mattis stayed on message.
    “I’m confident the Russians will act in their own best interests, and there’s nothing in their best interests to say they want this situation to go out of control,” said Mattis.

    He was speaking after the cruise missile attack on Shayrat, but he seemed to be having difficulty convincing himself that Russia would not respond to an attack not involving Russian forces. Once Russians die……..

  5. VietnamVet says:

    The NATO FOB is at Al Tanf inside of Syria at the request of Israel and the Gulf Monarchs who support a Sunni enclave in Eastern Syria that keeps the Shiite Crescent cut. Atlantists want Russia to keep fighting quagmires. Shiite militias want to free the highway to Baghdad. Syrian Arab Army needs to close the rebel supply line and regain their land. Will Russia provide air support in an attack on the FOB? NATO is risking a nuclear war to keep the last supply line to the Islamic State open.

  6. trinlae says:

    And the opposite (or corrolary) of those who refuse to learn from mistakes are those who will yet again have their cake and eat it too…..any bets on who that might be? Muktada al Sadr?

  7. Reading through the latest CJTFOIR video conference transcript I see this administration is still intent on keeping their latest group of pet jihadis in southern Syria. We say these jihadis are only to target IS forces, but we all know that a load of crap. We’ve declared a 55 kilometer “established deconfliction zone” around our Al Tanf training site on Syrian territory. We admit pro-regime forces are well within that zone and that larger formations of pro-regime forces are massing outside this zone. If I was advising the R+6, I would expand control to the Iraqi border east of the Al Tanf crossing outside of the declared deconfliction zone. That would separate the US jihadis from their declared IS targets. At that point, as my father would often say, CJTFOIR and their pet jihadis won’t know whether to shit or go blind.
    Our main base in that area is 18km east of the Al Tanf border crossing inside Jordanian territory. My guess is that after we wail and gnash our teeth for a spell, we’ll move our pet jihadis to that base. The alternative is silly walking our way into a shooting war with the R+6.

  8. Alaric says:

    The US is bluffing. Trump and his minions will have a terrible time explaining the deaths of US troops who refused to leave Syria. Yeah the neocons and nedia will call for war but no the US electorate will not support it.

  9. Haralambos says:

    Off topic perhaps for this thread, but the blowback continues as reported tonight on the BBC:
    This is just up from the UK.

  10. mauisurfer says:

    Gareth Porter is my favorite USA reporter on mideast, he says:
    the Brennan-Clapper line insinuating that the Kushner request for contacts with the Russians was potentially treasonous collapses in light of the well-documented story of how President-elect Richard Nixon’s national security adviser-designate Henry Kissinger established his own personal backchannel to the Soviet leadership in 1968 using a known KGB operative with whom he had been meeting for years as his contact.
    Kissinger used the Sedov channel to introduce the concept of “linkage” of different policy issues into negotiations with the Soviets. Sedov gave Kissinger a Soviet government paper on Middle East policy, according to Moss’s account. Only after Nixon’s inauguration did Kissinger and Soviet Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin agree that all further communication would be through Dobrynin.
    Both the Kissinger-Sedov and Kissinger-Dobrynin channels were kept secret from the rest of the Nixon administration’s national security apparatus
    This history of Kissinger’s Soviet backchannel in 1968 reveals Brennan’s breathless alarm about Russian “suborning” Flynn or using the backchannel to manipulate Kushner as unworthy of a serious intelligence professional.

  11. turcopolier says:

    suggest you go bother Gareth. You are a nuisance. pl

  12. Peter Reichard says:

    An assault on Al Tanf has a high risk/benefit ratio and is fraught with potentially disastrous political and military consequences. As TTG pointed out it would be better to do an end run around the deconfliction zone by clearing the east-west road midway between Al Tanf and Palmyra that reaches the Iraq border some 70 miles northeast of Al Tanf. This bypasses and isolates the Al Tanf enclave rendering it impotent and opens a land link with Iraq.

  13. aleksandar says:

    I wonder how it will be possible for those “VSO” to realize a 200 km progression from Al Tanf to Al Bukamal in plain desert fighting both SAA and IS. And I don’t even mention logistical issues.
    Seems so unreal !

  14. Ghostship says:

    The source for that 18 km east claim has corrected it in a tweet to 18 km west of al tanf which places it in the north-eastern corner of Jordan. Still no co-ordinates.

  15. b says:

    al-Tanf is part of a bigger plan which includes the Iraqi Highway 1 and the whole zone from the Saudi border up the Euphrates in Syria.
    The idea is to break the mythical “Shia crescent” which never existed as a physical connection. (How was Iran connected to Lebanon in 2006 with the U.S. occupying Iraq?)
    It is unlikely to ever work but that has never hindered the almighty U.S. generals from pursuing a plan.

  16. Barbara Ann says:

    Speaking of silly walking:–and–usled-coalition-set-up-new-base
    At what point does a series of bases with security zones become an occupation?

  17. ArmyMBA says:

    Is there any legal basis for our incursion into Syrian territory? Has the U.N. sanctioned our operations in the sovereign country of Syria? Has the U.N. recognized national government of Syria invited us into their country to conduct operations against IS? It is pretty rich for us to threaten a sovereign country for moving their military forces in their own territory close to ours when we are operating without their consent.

  18. BraveNewWorld says:

    I have to agree. The big action right now is taking Daraa. That will close the major crossing with Jordan. The R+6 don’t actually have to take al-Tanf to seal that highway to Iraq. For all intents and purposes it is sealed already. Th Iraqi’s have sealed the border up by Dier Ezzor.
    That means supplies in the East have to come across the desert which immediately makes them suspicious and should be easy for the IL-20 Coot to spot. It also limits what type of vehicles you can use. Or they have to come up from Israel. Or they have to be flown in which again with the action in the area would be easy to spot. In a nut shell logistics has gotten a LOT harder for the coalition and it’s pets.

  19. Chris Chuba says:

    I am sorry to say that I do not take our Generals at their word. IMO years of having every statement they make taken as gospel by the U.S. Press Corps has made them complacent and willing to make statements that are either false or worded in a way that they know will be interpreted incorrectly by the fools they are talking too. It wasn’t always like this, the press during the Vietnam War and 70’s was quite harsh on the military but after Desert Storm they became infallible.
    When I read this south front article it dawned on me how important Al Tanf is to Syria, not just to Iran. We see this as a convenient way to block the so-called Shia Crescent. The SAA sees this as a vital link to the Iraqi PMF to help them fight ISIS. If Mattis underestimates the importance of the road link to Syria then he might think that a little bluster might be enough to dissuade the advance. This could be bad.

  20. Ghostship says:

    Al tanf has spawned another base that is allegedly 70 km north east of al tanf and 130 km south of Al-bukamal (al-tanf – Al Bukamal: total distance = 200 km, actual distance ~ 235 km). At 70 km out, it provides two contigous 35 km de-confliction zones so the NSA/US/UK/etc. seem to be trying to control the border using a lily pad like approach and air power.
    Although reading the comments on the Facebook page announcing this suggests that not all the locals are happy.
    Meanwhile, the SDF no doubt under US pressure are saying that the Iraqi PMU will not be allowed to enter Syria.
    Why would the SDF refuse Iraqi PMU support. It couldn’t be because the U.S. threatened to cut support for Kurdish forces in Syria according to a coalition spokesman.
    At the same time, ISIS are being allowed to leave Raqqa and the United States supposedly committed to its destruction is leaving it up to the RuAF to destroy the ISIS columns as well as oil trucks (where have I heard that before).
    Meanwhile as the SAA approach Deir Ez-zor, ISIS seems to be making one large push to remove the SAA from their bases there:
    Which might be succeeding:
    Meanwhile non-interventonism didn’t last long:
    James Mattis asks US allies to ‘bear with us’ amid backlash over isolationism

  21. Barbara Ann says:

    New strike by CJTFOIR reported on Assad forces at al-Tanf today by @airwars. But it is dated June 26th and I can’t find it in
    If it is fake it may be interesting to find out where @airwars got it. If it is genuine has it been pulled – did this strike happen?

  22. Tyler P. Harwell says:

    Try CNN

  23. Barbara Ann says:

    MaT have just announced plans for 3rd base in Deir Ezzor governorate (2nd you refer to is called Zegiph apparently).

  24. Barish says:

    At-Tanf appears to be a problem that has pretty much solved itself today: SAA and allied contingents simply advanced to the border-line NE of it, as per various sources’ confirmation, not least of which is the Russian MoD itself:
    There’s video-footage too which was uploaded, and Syrian MoD will probably follow suit soon to confirm this development:
    It is open desert, true, however it appears that SAA and allies do not just send a proverbial thin red line here to take the area, but are out in force. There’s not much that the “anti-ISIL coalition” can do about this, as TTG so beautifully put it in another thread, and going by this CNN-report here confusion in said coalition’s command seems apparent:
    The money-quote being this:
    “This was the third coalition strike in recent weeks against pro-regime forces near At Tanf and it comes days after a highly unusual move from the coalition where they permitted a pro-regime Syrian aircraft to conduct an airstrike inside a restricted zone in southern Syria where American forces were stationed.
    Tuesday’s strike, which also took place near the US-manned At-Tanf Garrison on Syria’s southern border, was intended to protect Iranian-backed Shia militia fighters aligned with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad who had come under attack from anti-government forces.
    The US does not support the militia group but approved the strike after a request from the Syrian government was relayed by the Russians through established communication channels.”
    This suggests that the special forces present there don’t have a real grip on the “local partner forces” – read, insurgents – that are present in the area and, rather than “combat ISIL”, apparently are spoiling for a fight with the “regime” and “Iranians”. A foolishness that the “anti-ISIL coalition” ultimately appears to not be willing to fully support with aerial sorties etc.
    The scheme for an iron curtain between the Syrian Arab Republic and its Iraqi neighbour has thus been dashed, just so, rendering the illegal occupation at Tanf worthless for the “anti-ISIL coalition’s” proclaimed goal. Except if somehow they managed to bring their “partner forces” there into an alliance with SAA vs. ISIL, which I doubt given the above quoted CNN-report.

  25. Thomas says:

    In regards to the overall situation of the Syria Civil War, If this linked story of the Syrians pulling out agents is confirmed then it signals a momentum shift in the war.
    “According to pro-government sources, one of the commanders of the Sultan Murad Division, Mohammed Kheir Shlash (Abu al-Khair) was among the defectors. It later emerged that Abu al-Khair was an agent of Syrian Air Force Intelligence and was one of the first commanders of the Sultan Murad Division supported by Turkey and the United States.
    Abu al-Khair established his headquarters in al-Midan and Suliman al-Halabi districts in eastern Aleppo, where he cooperated with the Tiger Forces during the “Dawn Of Victory” operation.
    He played a key role in the collapse of the militants’ defense lines in eastern Aleppo. After the withdrawal from Aleppo, Abu al-Khair moved to the controlled by Euphrates Shield forces and the Turkish Army and established a headquarters in Jarablus town at the Syrian-Turkish border and became responsible for the northern part of Jarablus. According to opposition sources, Abu al-Khair was in constant contact with the Turkish governor of Gaziantep and high-ranking officers of the Turkish Army and officials from the Turkish ruling party.”
    The stories to be told.

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