More Pieces Fall in Place for a Russian-US Clash in Southern Syria

  • US proxies are goading the Syrian army into a clash with US air power
  • Russian bombers are taking out said US proxies
  • US is scaling up its forces citing the threat of Russia-backed Syrian army

...welcome to the standoff at al-Tanf, this year's best candidate for a Sarajevo 1914 moment

Fri, Jun 2, 2017 | 7490 Comments

US proxies have used the cover of an US air umbrella to attack the Syrian army in southern Syria, seemingly intending to goad them into a clash with the US, at which time the Russians bombed them. The US is now stepping up its presence on the ground citing the threat of pro-government troops retreating from America's unilaterally-declared no-drive zone for government forces.

Let's rewind. A month ago RI warned that US and Russia were on a collision course in Syria. The Syrian army was advancing toward the al-Tanf border crossing on the border with Iraq – which is held by a group of rebels who are not just armed, trained and paid by the US, but also frequently have US Special Forces embedded with them.

That is precisely what happened. A week after our warning the US "defensively" bombed the advancing Syrian army column and forced it to halt.

Since then the US has also dropped over 90,000 leaflets warning the Syrian army and militias not to come within 55 kilometres of the al-Tanf border crossing. 

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US claims this as a "deconfliction zone" but it has been clearly declared unilaterally.

What is more, the US-backed rebels then used the existence of the no-go zone for the pro-government forces to take potshots at them, safe in the knowledge a Syrian army counter-attack would risk deadly US air strikes.

After the American attack the Syrian army pulled back and entrenched itself at the strategically important Zaza crossroads which lies just outside the 55 kilometer exclusion zone. (The very leaflets which US printed named Zaza as being outside it.)

This should have averted more killing, but US' rebel proxies had other ideas. Knowing the loyalists can not maneuver freely, they hauled their rocket artillery northwards and struck the pro-government forces from long range.

It is as if they were goading the loyalists to move southward against them and be destroyed by US air power.

Ironically, what happened instead was that they themselves were bombed by either the Russians or the Syrians. (The rebels claim it was the Russians but it's impossible to tell from the footage.) In the rebel telling of the story the bombing did not kill any of their number, but it forced them to cut short their attack and retreat.

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They also claim that up until that time their offensive was going swimmingly and had successfully dislodged the "pro-Iranians" from their first line of trenches, which is harder to believe.

The rebel group in question, Usud al-Sharqiya or Lions of the East, is backed through a CIA program, and says it has seen an uptick in US support since the current crisis began.

It is largely made up of tribal fighters from Deir ez-Zor province. At one point it was part of the Saudi-funded, Salafist-led, Authenticity and Development Front.

Anyhow, rather than restrain its charges the US announced it is reinforcing its base in southern Syria with more US troops: 

"We have increased our presence and our footprint and prepared for any threat that is presented by the pro-regime forces," said the spokesman, U.S. Army Colonel Ryan Dillon, referring to Iran-backed forces supporting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Bizarrely, after the Syrians complied and pulled back to Zaza, now the troops at Zaza are seen as a threat:

Meanwhile, a larger number had been massing directly outside the zone, which was agreed between the United States and Russia, which is supporting Assad.

"We see that as a threat," Dillon said.

Taken together we have:

  • US scaling up its military presence in southern Syria specifically to counter Syrian government forces "massing" at Zaza 
  • Washington's rebel charges goading the loyalists to attack and move into a US-declared no-go zone
  • Russians buzzing around and bombing US-backed rebels 

It's safe to say prospects for world peace have seen better days.

Besides the absurdity of the US "defensively" massing in Syria, to counter a Syrian build up in Syria  what is particularly worrying is that the rebels, the US military, and the media are all talking about the troops at Zaza as "Iranian-backed forces".

Indeed, the pro-government fighters at Zaza include Iraqi militias, but Syrian armed forces (and possibly the Russians) are also in the mix.

Focusing on foreign militias serves to obscure the fact the US is massing in Syria to deny the Syrian army its own territory. Also given the intense US hatred of Iran it makes a further escalation of the standoff more palpable.

The obvious play for the Russian-backed Syrians is to neutralize Americans at al-Tanf by giving their base a 55 kilometer-wide berth and punch through to the Iraqi border further east. Such a maneuver would end US dreams of al-Tanf as a staging point for a push into the Euphrates valley and make it into an irrelevant, isolated outpost in the desert.

But the question is: is the Pentagon capable of resigning itself to its fate? Is it capable of sitting idly by, doing nothing, as its forces in southern Syria are made irrelevant, or will it escalate (yet again) before that happens?

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