Southern Homs Province
In December last year, thanks primarily to the work of the Russian Air Force, the Russian MTR, our military advisers and the Syrian Arab Army military personnel, the Islamic State ceased to exist in the territory of the Syrian Arab Republic. Later, part of the contingent of Russian forces was withdrawn from Syria on the orders of President Vladimir Putin. Meanwhile, a grouping of US Armed Forces, whose official goal according to Washington is the fight against international terrorism, still retains its illegal presence in Syria.
What are Americans doing in the Syrian Arab Republic if IS and their affiliated organizations (with whom they never had an armed confrontation) are destroyed?
In the north-east of the country where the so-called Syrian Kurdistan extends, the US-backed Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) are based and the presence of the United States military contingent there cannot be logically justified. Why do the Americans maintain their base at Al-Tanf settlement in the south of Homs province? What is happening there and is this a preparation for a new stage of terrorist offensive?
The Federal News Agency (FAN) conducted its own investigation. Our correspondents in Syria, Igor Petrashevich and Roman Martynovich, went to southern Syria to observe first hand what is happening in the occupied area.
Back in the summer when Pentagon-controlled militant units tried to spread their influence further east along the southern border of the ATS, the CAA units managed to cut off their advance with the help of the VCS. The enclave of the US armed forces and Islamist groups, occupying a territory of 55 kilometers at the junction of the border with Iraq and Jordan, were completely and effectively hemmed in. At the moment the Syrian military controls the entire perimeter of the area. It was expected that the United States would decide on a voluntary withdrawal from Al-Tanf, and they actually conveyed such a message, but as the current situation shows, this turned out to be false. Why is this enclave surrounded by Syrian military, needed by Washington?
On December 27, 2017, Chief of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces, Valery Gerasimov, clarified the situation. He stated that based on available intelligence, the Americans are training a new army of terrorists whose key goal will be to continue the struggle against the government of Bashar Assad at bases in Al-Tanf as well as south of Hasaka near the city of Al-Shaddady. He said that new forces were sent to the southern border by US intelligence, a considerable part of which were former members of ISIL relocated from the province of Deir ez Zor, where the final defeat of this terrorist group took place.
It is the presence of these terrorists that causes the greatest fear among the local population. None of the residents would agree to help our journalists get into the US-controlled enclave. A young man named Marshud warned our correspondents that a couple of his attempts to go to the nearby village behind the delineation line where his relatives live resulted in direct threats from armed militants guarding the perimeter. The inability to get closer to Al-Tanf did not stop the FAN reporters from completing the investigation.
How many fighters are there?
It is known that in the Al-Tanf area, which the official spokesman of the Russian Defense Ministry Igor Konashenkov called “a black hole“, several armed groups that cooperate with the United States are based. These are the “New Syrian Army” (formerly the “Partisans of the Revolution”), “Jash Usud Al-Sharqiya“, “The Brigade of the Martyr Ahmad al-Abdo” and “Liwa Shuhada El-Karjatein“. They are equipped with large-caliber mortars, ATGMs, tanks and other weapons. Now members of the former Islamic state joined this coalition. As the source in CAA told our journalists, last month about 200 ISIL soldiers were sent to the area by American MTR, mostly from Deir-ez-Zor and Abu Kemal. Most of them agreed to unconditional submission to the command of the US Armed Forces and joined the active reserve of pro-American terrorist forces, the total number of which is approximately 1,200 fighters. The command of the forces of this coalition was entrusted to the field commander of the NSA, Mkhinda Talaa, who has strained relations with the leaders of other terrorist factions who tolerate the situation only because he pays them.
In general, the relationship between militants of individual groups is tense, as is clear from the testimony of local civilians. One man, named Amjad Sahim, who managed to escape from US-controlled territories to the neighboring province of Damascus, said that he and his brothers witnessed a clash between NSA squads on duty at the border and former ISIL forces who were trying to leave the 55 km zone and enter Jordan. As a result, terrorists trying to leave were completely destroyed.
In addition to militants and the US military, the forces of other states that are part of an international coalition led by the United States are deployed in the region, a source in the Syrian army told our correspondents. According to him, there are about 400 representatives of intelligence services, mercenaries from private military companies, as well as members of special forces from Britain, France, Jordan and a number of other countries. In their arsenal, among other weapons, there are MLRS HIMARS and antiaircraft artillery, which are for the purpose of defense of the military base.
At the same time, active reserves of the militants controlled by Washington are not only stationed in the Al-Tanf area. While the main terrorist forces are stationed at the base of the US Armed Forces and receive a monetary allowance, another 5,000 Islamists reside on the territory of the Ar-Rookban refugee camp, some of them armed and still in contact with their field commanders.
Back in November last year, many militants began to express dissatisfaction with the noticeable decline in funding from the US. Because of this the command of the Al-Tanf base, fearing that the Islamists would turn against them, decided to issue a severance pay of several thousand dollars and grant them the right to remain inside the enclave. However, they still perform additional tasks for which they are paid separately.
What do terrorists do inside the 55 km zone?
Detachments of the New Syrian Army maintain fortifications along the perimeter of the 55-kilometer zone, as well as guard the outside of the perimeter of the military base Al-Tanf and the Ar-Rukban camp, said one of the servicemen of the SAA located near the line of contact with the terrorists in the area. For this purpose, practically all fighters from the NSA are involved. Members of the Brigade of the Martyr Ahmad al-Abdo and other formations fulfill this task when the soldiers of the NSA are resting. Despite the hostile relationship between Mkhinda Talaa and the leaders of these groups, the latter are forced to maintain contact with him for the sake of preserving their formations. Due to paid single-time tasks for protection or escort of goods received from Talaa, field commanders keep the militants in their squads.
Their Islamists have not had any combat missions yet. Because some terrorists from the active reserve of pro-American forces also live in tent camps, many of them have moved their families there. Our correspondents, while in El-Karjatein in south-western Homs, met a girl who had previously lived near Al-Tanf, named Farah Al-Shamsia. She managed to escape from the 55-kilometer zone controlled by the US, and told FAN about the excesses of terrorists inside the camp and nearby villages. While some are busy building homes or practicing shooting, most of them, left with no legitimate means of livelihood, rob the houses of civilians and raid trucks passing through the enclave along the Damascus-Baghdad highway. US Armed Forces command tried to influence the terrorists to move outside Ar-Rookan but ended up leaving everything as it is.
Movement within this zone is open, you can move freely, no one will search you. Traders often pass here, often trying to transport something illegal. But here it is not the security forces that are dangerous for them, but local militants who man roadblocks and constantly rob cargo or extort money for travel. The Americans just close their eyes to it.
Recall that it was from Al-Tanf in the beginning of autumn of that year that units of ISIL emerged, which led to their re-capturing the city of El-Karjatein.
As then reported by the General Staff of the RF Armed Forces, the terrorists clearly had in their hands the coordinates of the location of the checkpoints of the Syrian army, which they received from their Western patrons. The Syrian military stationed at the line of delimitation who told FAN journalists about the daily activities of militants inside the southern enclave, also noted that in the past month, terrorists made no attempt to conduct offensive operations. However, in the middle of December, it was recorded that a group of terrorists tried again to go beyond the 55 kilometer zone and bypass the positions of the SAA. They drove out on two pickup trucks equipped with machine guns, but all of them were liquidated.
The Syrian military is certain that this contingent of terrorists poses a serious threat. At the moment there is no activity because they are amassing their combat power. Thus, important highways are under threat, including Homs-Deir-ez-Zor and Damascus-Palmyra, key cities of Central Syria with strategically important oil and gas fields.
And what about the locals?
Nevertheless, the threat posed by the enclave of pro-American militants off the southern border of the Syrian Arab Republic now seems quite high. At the moment, thousands of civilians are in this area, guarded by Islamists along the inner perimeter. Among them are also refugees living in the camp of Ar-Rukban, which, according to our sources, was seized by terrorists.
Earlier, representatives of the Russian Center for Reconciliation of the opposing parties reported that the situation in this camp is close to catastrophic, as the United States closed access to it for the UN and for any other humanitarian organizations. Any attempts by the convoys of governmental and allied forces to approach the enclave resulted in air strikes by the United States Air Force and their allies.
Aviation of the Western coalition conducted air raids on Syrian government and allied forces in the immediate vicinity of the border of the southern enclave in May and June 2017 while units of the SAR had not engaged in attacking the US base. After these incidents, leaflets with a warning not to approach Al-Tanf were distributed around the perimeter of the zone. The Americans threatened to open fire. Another incident happened on June 20. On this day, the US Air Force fighter F-15E shot down the SAA drone near the line of demarcation. As stated by the command of the United States Armed Forces, the UAV allegedly threatened the safety of American servicemen.
Meanwhile, the humanitarian situation inside the zone, especially in the Ar-Rukban camp itself, is becoming critical. As Petrashevich and Martynovich were told by one of their interlocutors – a local man who managed to escape to Damascus – basic foodstuffs and almost all necessities are simply not available. The militants have seized control over artesian wells and sell the water to the population at prices that are overestimated by 10 or more times.
When I was very thirsty, I had to give away a fortune. A bottle of water, which could previously have been bought for 50 liras, is sold by terrorists for 500. And what to do – people bought. In general, many parents tried to save their children. I know a few local families who gave their girls to marry just to get them out of the area, Amjad Sahim said.
Life inside became worse day by day and the camp residents formed a local civil council, our interlocutor said. They tried to reach the American command, hoping to arrange the supply of necessary items. But the Americans ignored them and anti-American sentiment spread among the population.
The United States did not try to control their terrorists who denied ordinary citizens the necessities of life. Now residents are very much looking forward to the possibility of cooperation with the Syrian government and representatives of the Russian command.
Representatives of the Russian Center have repeatedly stated their willingness to help refugees in Ar-Rukban and accompany Syrian government humanitarian convoys. The American side insists that it can not give security guarantees within the 55 kilometer zone. Movement in the area of Al-Tanf is extremely dangerous, since thousands of armed Islamist militants are stationed there, including former ISIL, many of whom no longer submit to the command of the US Armed Forces. At the end of December 2017, representatives of the Russian Center, despite the threat, decided to take a small group of refugees out from Ar-Rukban. The correspondents of the FAN, together with the servicemen, accompanied the bus provided for the export of civilians, and recorded the evacuation process.
Now the fate of the region is still in the hands of the United States, which seem willing to pay any price to preserve its influence in the Middle East and achieve its own geopolitical goals. Surprisingly, neither the UN nor other major human rights organizations can end US military aggression in Syria. American troops that illegally invaded the territory of a foreign country not only support anti-government terrorist groups but have captured entire areas deploying their bases there while openly firing at the Syrian army, establishing conditions for the movement of government troops across their own sovereign territory.