The Killing of 3 American Troops Was an Avoidable Tragedy

“U.S. Special Forces had first set up shop in al-Tanf during the war against the Islamic State. Their plan was to support the Revolutionary Commando Army, a friendly Syrian rebel group. That project failed embarrassingly. The Revolutionary Commando Army suffered a major defeat at the hands of the Islamic State in 2016, and one of its leaders ran off with American-made guns after he was accused of drug trafficking in 2020. Kurdish-led forces elsewhere in Syria became a much more reliable partner for the U.S. military.
Meanwhile, Russia—which is allied with the Iranian and Syrian governments—agreed to enforce a 55 kilometer “deconfliction zone” around al-Tanf. The zone also included Rukban, an unofficial refugee camp built by Syrians fleeing government persecution. (The Syrian government reportedly tortured two former Rukban residents to death in October 2022.) No country wanted to take responsibility for the camp, and it took almost a decade for the U.S. military to begin providing food aid to Rukban.

Washington, however, had a different purpose for al-Tanf in mind: countering Iran and its allies. The base’s location near the Iraqi-Syrian border made it valuable real estate, especially for anyone intent on breaking up the “land bridge” between Iranian allies. It also allowed the U.S. military and Israeli intelligence to listen in on Iranian communications, according to Al-Monitor, a Washington-based magazine focused on the Middle East. So the Americans stayed.

“Control of [al-Tanf] neutralized a key border crossing point on the road between Baghdad and Damascus, which forced Iran and others to cross from Iraq into Syria at a more distant border crossing to the north,” former Trump administration official John Bolton declared in his 2020 memoir, The Room Where It Happened. “Besides, why give away territory for nothing?”

More provocatively, Israeli forces began using al-Tanf’s airspace to bomb Iranian and pro-Iranian forces in Syria. (Since American aircraft often fly the same route, Syrian “air defenses can’t tell the difference until it’s too late,” a U.S. official told Al-Monitor.) The Israeli air campaign, known as “the war between the wars,” was designed to prevent Iran from moving weapons into the region in anticipation of a future war. Israel dropped more than 2,000 bombs on Syria in 2018, through “near-daily” air raids, with the direct involvement of U.S. leaders.

“The Israeli strike plans were submitted through the U.S. military chain and reviewed at CENTCOM [U.S. Central Command], usually days in advance of the strike; the strike plans outlined the purpose of the mission, the number of warplanes that would carry out the attack, and when it would occur,” wrote Wall Street Journal reporter Michael Gordon in his 2022 book, Degrade and Destroy: The Inside Story of the War Against the Islamic State. “They also spelled out the routes the Israeli planes would take and the coordinates of the target that would be struck. CENTCOM would examine the request, which would also be shared with the U.S. defense secretary, who would have the final say.”

It seemed like a win-win arrangement. Israel had a safe route for its bombing runs, and the United States could weaken a foreign rival without getting directly involved. But there was a problem: Iran was not stupid, and it could see that the American troops were facilitating the raids on its own troops. In retaliation for a series of Israeli attacks in October 2021, the Iranian military bombed al-Tanf the following month. No Americans were harmed at the time, but it was an ominous sign of the dangers involved.”

“Other officials and experts continued to worry that al-Tanf could become a liability. Former U.S. Air Force colonel Daniel L. Magruder Jr. called al-Tanf “strategic baggage” in an article published by the Brookings Institute a few weeks after Biden was elected. He recommended withdrawing U.S. forces in exchange for a deal to allow the refugee safe passage. The colonel warned that Russia and Iran had “acted provocatively” against al-Tanf in the past. “Would the U.S. be able to control escalation if an American were killed?” he wondered.

Three years later, Magruder’s question is sadly relevant. It remains to be seen how Biden will react to the killing of the three American troops, and whether that reaction deters further violence or escalates the situation even more. But Washington can’t say it wasn’t warned.”

https://reason.com/2024/01/29/the-killing-of-3-american-troops-was-an-avoidable-tragedy/

US hits hard at militias in Iraq and Syria, retaliating for fatal drone attack

“The strikes by manned and unmanned aircraft hit more than 85 targets, including command and control headquarters, intelligence centers, rockets and missiles, drone and ammunition storage sites and other facilities. U.S. Central Command said the strikes used more than 125 precision munitions, and they were delivered by numerous aircraft, inlcuding long-range bombers flown from the United States. One official said B-1 bombers were used.
Omar Abu Layla, a Europe-based activist who heads the Deir Ezzor 24 media outlet, said the strikes hit areas in east Syria including the countryside of Mayadeen, Quriya and Rahba that is home to a telecommunications center for Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard and arms depot in Boukamal along the Iraq border.

The assault came came just hours after Biden and top defense leaders joined grieving families to watch as the remains of the three Army Reserve soldiers were returned to the U.S. at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware.

It was unclear what the next steps will be, or whether the days of U.S. warnings have sent militia members scattering into hiding, making it more difficult to detect and strike them. But it was evident that the recent statement released by Kataeb Hezbollah, one of the main Iran-backed militias, saying it was suspending attacks on American troops had no impact on the administration’s plans.

The U.S. strikes appeared to stop short of directly targeting Iran or senior leaders of the Revolutionary Guard Quds force within its borders. Iran has denied it was behind the Jordan attack.”

https://www.yahoo.com/news/us-bolsters-defenses-around-jordan-144526727.html

Russia Is Fighting More Than One War. I Went to Check on the ‘Other’ One.

“Here’s what’s being ignored in Syria: An average of 84 civilians have been killed per day over the past decade, according to a U.N. estimate. This totals more than 306,000 deaths since 2011, when the Assad regime brutally cracked down on pro-democratic demonstrations and triggered the civil war.
The U.N. has said that these numbers represent a minimum estimate and that the likely number killed is much higher. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a U.K.-based NGO, has made an estimate of over 600,000 killed, including civilians and non-civilians. Russia has been assisting Assad since 2015, conducting air and ground operations against the opposition forces.”

“The UAE began restoring diplomatic relations with the Assad regime in 2018. This year, Saudi Arabia and Jordan have pressed regional countries to recognize his government. And in May, Assad was welcomed back to a summit of the Arab League for the first time since 2011, in what Al Jazeera described as a “warm reception” — this despite an overwhelming amount of evidence that he and his regime have committed war crimes. Assad used the opportunity to deliver a speech stressing that other countries should not meddle in the “internal affairs” of Arab states.”

https://www.politico.com/news/magazine/2023/12/03/russia-syria-war-turkey-00128920

The US carrier groups posted near Israel could be under threat from Hezbollah’s new anti-ship missiles: report

“The Lebanon-based militant group Hezbollah has obtained Russian anti-ship missiles capable of targeting US carrier groups posted near Israel, Reuters reported.
In a speech last week Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah issued a veiled threat to the US, saying that the militant group had weapons capable of striking US warships in the region to deter attacks on Israel.

Reuters, citing unnamed sources, said that Nasrallah was talking about Russian Yakhont missiles which Hezbollah obtained while fighting alongside Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad’s forces in the Syrian civil war.

The missiles have a range of around 186 miles, and can be launched from ground, sea or air.

Speaking about the possibility that Hezbollah had acquired the weapons, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Reuters: “This is news without any confirmation at all. We do not know if it is true or not.”

A US official told the outlet: “We’re obviously paying a lot of attention to that… and we’re taking what capabilities they have seriously.””

https://www.yahoo.com/news/us-carrier-groups-posted-near-144048895.html

US fighter jets strike Iran-linked sites in Syria in retaliation for attacks on US troops

“U.S. fighter jets launched airstrikes early Friday on two locations in eastern Syria linked to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, the Pentagon said, in retaliation for a slew of drone and missile attacks against U.S. bases and personnel in the region that began early last week.
The U.S. strikes reflect the Biden administration’s determination to maintain a delicate balance. The U.S. wants to hit Iranian-backed groups suspected of targeting the U.S. as strongly as possible to deter future aggression, possibly fueled by Israel’s war against Hamas, while also working to avoid inflaming the region and provoking a wider conflict.

According to a senior U.S. military official, the precision strikes were carried out near Boukamal by two F-16 fighter jets, and they struck weapons and ammunition storage areas that were connected to the IRGC. The official said there had been Iranian-aligned militia and IRGC personnel on the base and no civilians, but the U.S. does not have any information yet on casualties or an assessment of damage.”

https://www.yahoo.com/news/us-strikes-iran-linked-sites-020822123.html

Why are there still American troops in Syria?

“US troops are fighting ISIS in Syria. But Congress hasn’t approved it, the public hardly knows about it, and it’s not clear under what conditions the US would leave.
Americans tend to only be reminded of the 900 US troops and hundreds of contractors stationed there when they came under attack, often from militants who have Iran’s support, or when there is a mishap”

“The US is in Syria to curb the terrorist group Islamic State or ISIS, in a region that is semi-autonomous and run by the Syrian Democratic Forces, a Kurdish group.

Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has said that troops are needed because “if you completely ignore and turn your back, then you’re setting the conditions for a resurgence.”

But experts say that the US troops there are not building toward a sustainable outcome, and that resisting ISIS has become the pretext for a perpetual US presence.”

“Ford explains that the American mission to secure the outright defeat of ISIS is impossible. The 900 troops in the northeast of Syria and the US garrison at al-Tanf cannot stop a low level of recruitment into ISIS ranks. “So we can bomb some and we can kill some, but they’ll always replace the people that they lose,” he told me. “This is a classic forever war.””

Recent Airstrikes Are Our Periodic Reminder That We’re Fighting a War in Syria

“Given that IS lost its last piece of territory roughly four years ago, that would seem to eliminate the stated justification for maintaining an active anti-IS mission there.
The argument now is that we have to keep troops in Syria so that IS stays defeated.

“If you completely ignore and turn your back, then you’re setting the conditions for a resurgence,” Gen. Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told The New York Times during a recent visit to Syria.

What exactly the U.S. interest is in further suppressing a rump remnant of a vanquished terrorist group goes unexplained.”