A company size element of Marines conducted an aerial assault exercise in vicinity of a small U.S. base in southeastern Syria known as the At Tanf garrison amid concerns of a potential Russian military operation in the region.
CNN reported that the Russian military has used a deconfliction line several times this week to warn the U.S. military of a potential Russian and Syrian military operation to clear militant fighters in the area around the 55 km deconfliction bubble that surrounds the Tanf garrison, which houses dozens of U.S. troops.
“The Russians informed the U.S. on Sept 1, via the deconfliction line, that they intended to enter the At Tanf deconfliction zone to pursue terrorists,” Army Lt. Col. Earl Brown, a spokesman for U.S. Central Command told Marine Corps Times in an emailed statement. “The Russians indicated via written note on Sept 6, that they would make precision strikes in the At Tanf deconfliction zone against terrorist.”
Brown said that Russia was “advised” to stay clear of the 55 km At Tanf zone and that the U.S. did not require any assistance to fight ISIS in the region surrounding the garrison.
With worrying signs of a pending Russian military operation that could jeopardize U.S. forces there, Marines launched a rapid show of force training evolution via aerial assault and were expected to conduct a live fire shoot before departing the 55 km deconfliction bubble around Tanf.
“Our forces will demonstrate the capability to deploy rapidly, assault a target with integrated air and ground forces, and conduct a rapid exfiltration anywhere in the OIR combined joint operations area,” Navy Capt. Bill Urban, spokesman for U.S. Central Command, said in a command release Friday. “Exercises like this bolster our defeat-ISIS capabilities and ensure we are ready to respond to any threat to our forces.”
At Tanf is seen as a strategic training base for U.S. and coalition partner forces battling ISIS. Analysts contend the base’s location provides a check on Iranian efforts to dominate the region and serves as a buffer to protect Jordan’s border from the incursion of ISIS and other militant groups.
But the base has stoked the ire of Russia and its Syrian ally in the region who see Washington’s presence at the base as meddling in the country’s civil war.
“Coalition partners are in the At Tanf deconfliction zone for the fight to destroy ISIS. Any claim that the U.S. is harboring or assisting ISIS is grossly inaccurate,” Brown said.
The U.S. has launched several deadly strikes against proxy forces aligned to Syrian President Bashar Assad regime forces for violating the base’s 55 km deconfliction bubble in the past, including the downing of suspected Iranian drone aircraft.
“The United States does not seek to fight the Russians, the government of Syria or any groups that may be providing support to Syria in the Syrian civil war,” Brown said. “However, the United States will not hesitate to use necessary and proportionate force to defend U.S., coalition or partner forces, as we have clearly demonstrated in past instances.”
Shawn Snow is the senior reporter for Marine Corps Times and a Marine Corps veteran.