A small U.S. training base known as at-Tanf near the Iraq-Syria border has been the site of much apprehension between Russian and U.S. forces.
As news has spilled out over President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw U.S. forces from Syria, Muhannad al-Talla, a rebel commander working alongside U.S. forces at the remote garrison, told Buzzfeed that the U.S. would be withdrawing its troops from the base.
U.S military officials routinely have described the mission at the outpost as a training garrison for anti-ISIS fighters known as the Maghaweir Al-Thowra — a group that has had some previous connections to forces rebelling against Syrian President Bashar Assad.
The existence of the garrison, while hailed as a counter-ISIS mission, has become a symbol of America’s entanglement in the broader politics of the Syrian civil war — with prominent national security experts arguing its true intent is to block Iranian influence in the region.
Nestled near the Iraq-Syria border in the middle of the desert, U.S. forces training rebels at the base established a 55 km deconfliction bubble around the base as Syrian regime, Russia and Iranian proxy forces aligned to Assad made headway into the region in 2017 as they clawed back territory lost during the outset of the civil war.
Russia and Assad both see the base as an irritation, stymieing Syria’s ability to reclaim its borders and open a major avenue of influence that stretches from Tehran to the Mediterranean Sea.
Proxy forces allied to Assad, have on numerous occasions attempted to encroach the 55 km safety bubble established by the coalition only to be met by punishing air and artillery strikes.
U.S. forces even moved a long-range precision rocket artillery system, known as HIMARS, to the small garrison to beef up its defenses.
On at least two occasions, the coalition shot down Iranian Shaheed-129 drones, one armed, and the other that dropped a dud bomb near coalition forces.
And in September a company-size element of Marines were quickly dispatched to the garrison as a show of force exercise aimed at tampering down Russian threats to enter the deconfliction zone around the base.
America’s potential withdrawal from the base is a major prize for Russia, Iran, and the Syrian regime. It also threatens Jordan’s border should ISIS fighters stumble their way through the desert region unchallenged.
Shawn Snow is the senior reporter for Marine Corps Times and a Marine Corps veteran.