US and Iran edge closer to confrontation in Syria

A US-backed anti-government Syrian fighter from Maghaweer al-Thawra (left) and an American soldier take their position at the Syrian-Iraqi crossing border point of Al-Tanf, south Syria on May 23, 2017. (Hammurabi's Justice News via AP)
Updated 26 May 2017

US and Iran edge closer to confrontation in Syria

WASHINGTON: The six-year cold peace that the US and Iran have operationally maintained in Syria could be approaching an end as their rival strategies collide in the east and south of Syria.
This silent truce between US and Iran effectively broke on May 18 when the US-led coalition carried out its first airstrike against an Iranian proxy group near the base of Al-Tanf, close to Syria’s border with Iraq and Jordan.
The base hosts US advisers and local forces that Washington is training in its battle to take back Daesh-held territory. But the strike, experts agreed, is a harbinger of a period of more confrontation between US and Iran as their agendas seem bound to clash in a post-Daesh Syria.

Fight for geopolitics and territory
In a briefing from the US Defense Department on Wednesday, Air Force Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Harrigian defined the May 18 strike as a move to protect pro-US forces. “First thing I would say is I’m concerned about any threat to our forces on the ground,” he said.
Harrigian did not apologize or shy away from further action against Iranian proxies if they become a threat to the US-trained forces. “I’m just going to reiterate the fact that we will protect our forces... we will do what it takes to ensure that our ground forces, if they’re threatened, we’re going to take the necessary action,” he said.
The operational dynamics on the ground in Syria are inching Tehran and Washington closer to a confrontation said Nicholas A. Heras, a fellow at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) in Washington.
“The IRGC (Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps) is running Iranian foreign policy toward Syria, and the IRGC is acutely aware that building US military presence in southern and eastern Syria would take significant territory out of Assad’s reach,” Heras told Arab News.
In essence “Iran does not want Assad to be left with nothing to claim on the monopoly board that is Eastern Syria,” which explains the recent buildup of pro-Iran militias in the area according to the expert.
Faysal Itani, a senior fellow with the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East, told Arab News the US strike was “simply a move by Washington to enforce basic principles that it will protect its forces and local allies, including in areas where there are ongoing offensive operations.”
In the bigger scheme, the fight is one for leverage and territory, explained Heras. “The Trump administration is actively looking for options to utilize the counter-Daesh campaign, and the territory conquered by US-backed (forces), to prevent Iran from achieving its objectives in Syria.” Heras added that “the US wants to build maximum leverage on Bashar Assad and his friends Iran and Russia, and the best way to do that now is by capturing and ruling territory in eastern Syria.”

Ripe for escalation?
Itani defined the US and Iran as “adversaries in a zero-sum geopolitical competition,” but with limitations in Syria. In this latest development Itani said “the US has an anti-Daesh mission, and fighting it appropriately means taking steps that infringe on Iranian territorial and political interests in Syria.”
Another clash of interest is in Iran’s fear “that the US will support a large Saudi and GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) stabilization mission in eastern Syria,” said Heras. The expert added that “Iran sees the US counter-Daesh campaign as a tool for the Arab Gulf countries to enter Syria in lockstep with the United States.”
Both Heras and Itani agreed that Iran will continue to try to test US limits and its growing zone of influence in eastern Syria. “Escalation is ripe, and the US would most likely win that encounter,” said Heras. Itani cautioned that despite Washington’s military superiority “Iran can complicate things tremendously in Syria and elsewhere.”

Daesh terrorists in Syria face two choices: Surrender or death

Updated 19 February 2019

Daesh terrorists in Syria face two choices: Surrender or death

  • UN expresses concern over safety of 200 families
  • Thousands of people have streamed out of Daesh turf in recent weeks

OMAR OIL FIELD, SYRIA: Militants defending their last dreg of territory in Syria will be “killed in battle” if they do not surrender, a Kurdish-led force said on Tuesday ahead of a final showdown.

The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) said they are trying to evacuate civilians trapped in the last half-a-square km of Daesh’s once-sprawling “caliphate” before storming the terrorist holdout.

“We are working on secluding and evacuating civilians and then we will attack. This could happen soon,” spokesman Mustafa Bali said, declining to provide more details on the operation.

Daesh militants “have only two options, either they surrender or they will be killed in battle,” he said. Daesh declared a “caliphate” across large swathes of Syria and neighboring Iraq in 2014.

A small hamlet of buildings in the village of Baghouz is all that is left of the proto-state, which at its height spanned an area the size of the UK.

The UN on Tuesday expressed concern over “the situation of some 200 families, including many women and children, who are reportedly trapped” in the Daesh holdout.

“Many of them are apparently being actively prevented from leaving by Daesh,” the UN said in a statement. The frontline in Baghouz was quiet on Monday afternoon. Tattered buildings and the twisted skeletons of cars dotted the side of the road.

At the entrance of the village, the SDF had turned an embattled building into a temporary base.

Thousands of people have streamed out of Daesh turf in recent weeks, but no civilians have made it out in the past three days.

Those that managed to escape have been ferried on trucks to Kurdish-held camps for the displaced to the north.

The International Rescue Committee said on Monday that 62 people, mostly children, had died on the way to the Al-Hol camp or shortly after arriving in past weeks.

Beyond Baghouz, Daesh still has thousands of fighters and sleeper cells scattered across several countries.

In Syria, it retains a presence in the vast Badia desert, and the terrorists have claimed deadly attacks in SDF-held territory.

An SDF official on Monday said that an announcement will be made this week.

“In a few days we will announce a great victory over the largest terrorist organization that waged war on the world and wreaked chaos and death everywhere,” Zeidan Al-Assi said in a statement.

Trucks entered Baghouz to evacuate remaining civilians on Tuesday, Reuters quoted an SDF source as saying. A Reuters witness in a location near Baghouz saw dozens of trucks moving along a road toward the village.