Al-Tanf (U.S. military base)

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A landing zone at Al-Tanf, November 2017
A landing zone at Al-Tanf, November 2017
Flag of Syria 2011, observed.svg
55 KM area
Al Tanf Front (2018).svg
The "55 kilometer area": Location of the base in southeastern Syria and its surrounding "deconfliction zone"
Al-Tanf (U.S. military base) is located in Syria
Al-Tanf (U.S. military base)
Location of Al-Tanf, Syria
Coordinates: 33°30′21″N 38°37′04″E / 33.50583°N 38.61778°E / 33.50583; 38.61778Coordinates: 33°30′21″N 38°37′04″E / 33.50583°N 38.61778°E / 33.50583; 38.61778
Country Syria
GovernorateRif Dimashq
Subdistrictal-Sabe' Biyar
Regional-Tanf Pocket (جيب التنف)
Established3 March 2016[1]
 • Rebel commanderMuthanna Tala[2] (MaT)
Time zoneUTC+2 (EET)
 • Summer (DST)UTC+3 (EEST)

Al-Tanf (Arabic: التَنْف‎), also known as "At Tanf",[3] is a United States military base in Syria's Homs Governorate located 24 km west of the al-Tanf border crossing in the Syrian Desert. The surrounding deconfliction zone is located along the Iraq and Jordan–Syria border. The base is located along a critical road known as the M2 BaghdadDamascus Highway.

A significant United States Armed Forces presence at the outpost began in early 2016 during the American-led intervention in the Syrian Civil War in order to train anti-Islamic State fighters of the New Syrian Army rebel group, which was dissolved and reemerged as the Revolutionary Commando Army in December 2016. As of 2020, the al-Tanf base continues to serve as the headquarters for the Revolutionary Commando Army (also known as Maghawir al-Thawra) and a garrisoned contingent of at least 200 U.S. soldiers operating on behalf of the CJTF-OIR Coalition.

The presence of this military base in Syrian territory remains a controversial topic, as both the Syrian[4] and Russian government[5] consider the U.S. presence in al-Tanf illegal; the Syrian government has called for the withdrawal of all foreign forces from Syria, while Russia regularly criticizes the "uninvited" American presence in southeastern Syria.[6] The U.S. has called the al-Tanf base a counter to the Russia–Syria–Iran coalition's residual influence in the area.[7]

The Rukban refugee camp for internally displaced Syrians is located within the deconfliction zone.

History of operations[edit]

In May 2015, Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) militants captured the border checkpoint at Al-Tanf, thus obtaining control over the full length of the Iraq–Syria border. The U.S.-backed New Syrian Army rebel faction captured the al-Tanf post on the Syrian side of the border in early March 2016, and in early August, the al-Waleed checkpoint on the Iraqi side of the border was recaptured by pro-government Iraqi tribal militias backed by U.S.-led forces.[8][9] In August 2016, the BBC published photographs taken in June that year which it said showed British special forces soldiers apparently guarding the perimeter of the al-Tanf base.[10] In March 2017, the Revolutionary Commando Army (the successor of the New Syrian Army) re-opened the border crossing, resuming cross-border civilian traffic; a group referred to as the Army of Iraqi Tribes was said to control the Iraqi side of the crossing.[11]

On 8 April 2017, ISIL fighters launched a complex and coordinated attack against the U.S. special forces outpost at al-Tanf.[12][13] ISIL started the attack by striking the base with a car bomb and then attacking with 20-30 infantry. The attack was repelled first by gunfire from the rebels and U.S. special forces, then by multiple airstrikes from the anti-ISIL coalition which killed most of the ISIL force and destroyed their vehicles. Rebels stated that four of their fighters and eight ISIL fighters were killed.[14]

On 18 May 2017, U.S. fighter jets struck a convoy of pro-Syrian government forces advancing towards the base.[15][16] Shortly thereafter, Syrian government forces were reported to continue their advance in a direction that suggested their intent might be to outflank and isolate al-Tanf;[17] the government forces appeared to use advanced Russian-made weapons and were supported by Russian helicopters, according to a report acknowledged on May 26 by the Russian Defence Ministry′s media outlet.[18]

On 17 June 2017, the Iraqi Armed Forces announced that the Iraqi Army and Sunni tribal fighters, supported by U.S.-led Coalition aircraft, had dislodged ISIL from the Iraqi side of al-Waleed border crossing.[19]

At the end of December 2017, the chief of the Russian General Staff Valery Gerasimov said that the U.S. garrison at al-Tanf was fully isolated by Syrian government forces following the desert offensive in the area.[20][21]

"The 55 KM area"[edit]

U.S. Green Berets conduct a medevac exercise during a patrol within the Deconfliction Zone, 27 May 2020

By late 2017, Arab media began calling the "deconfliction area" around the Tanf base "The 55 KM area" as it composed of a half-circle area with a radius of 55 km with the base at its center. By 2018, the al-Tanf area hosted five rebel factions including the Lions of the East Army, the Forces of Martyr Ahmad al-Abdo, the Army of Free Tribes, the Revolutionary Commando Army (also known as Maghawir al-Thawra (MaT)), and Al-Qaryatayn Martyrs Brigade.[22]

On 7 September 2018, United States Central Command announced an Operation Inherent Resolve live fire exercise around the al-Tanf garrison. The announcement described it as a "defeat-ISIS exercise".[23] The Russian Reconciliation Center for Syria commented that "during the existence of the base, we don't know of a single US operation against IS [Islamic State, formerly ISIS] in the area."[24][3]

By 2019, the CJTF-OIR coalition referred to the area simply as the Deconfliction Zone (DCZ) with the Al-Tanf Garrison (ATG) at the center. On 23 October 2019, Maghawir al-Thawra reportedly seized $3.5 million worth of illicit drugs from a smuggler within the DCZ. According to CJTF-OIR, the smuggler hid the drugs under the normal guise of supplies being transported to the Rukban refugee camp. MaT searched the smuggler's truck and found nearly 850,000 Captagon pills. "This is one of the biggest drug busts we have ever had," said Col. Muhanned Tallah, the MaT commander. The coalition linked weapons and drug smuggling within the DCZ to ISIL underground networks.[25]

Around February 16, 2020, an Iranian-backed proxy group reportedly breached the deconfliction zone at Al-Tanf, and were then repelled by the U.S.-partnered Maghawir al-Thawra.[26][27]

On April 16, 2020, Syrian rebels at al-Tanf base defected to the Syrian Government in a convoy.[28]

Official statements on the base[edit]

The U.S. refers to the Revolutionary Commando Army as part of the "Vetted Syrian Opposition". According to the U.S., these fighters are permitted only to launch offensives against ISIL and not against the Syrian Armed Forces, though clashes with pro-Syrian government elements have occurred.[12][13]

In September 2017, Russian government-owned media outlet RIA Novosti reported, with a reference to unnamed military and diplomatic sources, that the U.S. had voiced readiness to leave al-Tanf but did not say when.[29]

On 8 February 2018, following "an unprovoked attack" by the pro-Syrian government forces in eastern Syria, the Syrian Democratic Forces and U.S.-led Coalition inflicted multiple casualties among Russian private military contractors of the Wagner Group, the Russian foreign ministry spokesperson, Maria Zakharova said: "The unlawful US armed presence in Syria presents a serious challenge to the peace process and to the country's territorial integrity and unity. A 55-kilometer zone unilaterally created by Americans around their military base near al-Tanf is being used by the scattered units of ISIS militants" for evading pursuit by government forces and re-grouping.[30][31] In mid-February 2018, Russia's foreign minister Sergey Lavrov, in an exclusive interview with Euronews, said that U.S. military presence in Syria generally and in the area of al-Tanf specifically "was illegal and unacceptable."[32][33][34]

In August 2018, U.S. State Department representative William V. Roebuck traveled to the cities of Manbij and Kobanî, both situated in Aleppo Governorate, as well as the town of al-Shaddadah in Hasakah Governorate. He was later due to visit Deir ez-Zor Governorate, half of which is held by the Kurdish-led Democratic Federation of Northern Syria. "We are prepared to stay here, as the president Donald Trump has made clear," he said after meeting with Kurdish officials.[35][36]

After the announced withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria, U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton said in early 2019 that U.S. operations in the al-Tanf area would continue as a part of the U.S. effort to counter "Iranian influence" in Syria.[7] On 28 January 2019, Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi ruled out the prospect of Jordanian forces seizing control of al-Tanf after American ground troops leave Syria. “Al-Tanf is on the other side of the Jordanian border. As I said, Jordan will not cross its border. We will take every measure we have to protect our security...but arrangements on the other side of the border after withdrawal will have to be agreed by all parties, and they have to ensure the safety and security in the area,” Safadi said.[37]

The Trump administration announced on 22 February 2019 that around 400 U.S. troops would remain in Syria post-withdrawal, with about half garrisoned in the Democratic Federation of Northern Syria and half at the al-Tanf garrison.[38] The 200 at al-Tanf were to remain indefinitely.[39]

U.S. Green Berets and Maghawir al-Thawra (MaT) on a joint patrol near Al-Tanf, 29 April 2020

On 27 February, Syria and Russia released a joint statement again demanding all U.S. forces leave Syria, while also demanding U.S. forces allow Russian and Syrian authorities to evacuate the Rukban refugee camp along the Jordanian border to "relocate people in the Rubkan area and guarantee them safe passage to their places of permanent residence". Russia argued that the U.S. was holding the refugee camp "hostage" and potentially as human shields within the territory.[40][41] According to a 24 March report by the U.S. government-funded Voice of America, the U.S.-backed Revolutionary Commando Army rebel group, which maintains aid access and provides security for the Rukban camp, said both refugees and U.S.-backed rebels in the zone depended on U.S. protection against attacks by pro-Syrian government militias and Islamic State-affiliated jihadists. A Rukban camp spokesman asserted that it was the Syrians and Russians that were "embargoing" the camp to force the refugees into reconciliation and to pressure U.S. troops to leave the strategically important al-Tanf military base.[42]

On 4 June 2019, representatives of more than 30 countries participated in a meeting with the command of Operation Inherent Resolve in Kuwait where the issue of stepping up efforts to fight terrorism in Iraq and Syria was discussed.[43] Amid a period of heightened regional tensions with Iran, the Pentagon announced on 18 June that another 1,000 troops will be deployed to the Middle East, presumably including the U.S. base in Syrian al-Tanf.[44]

In October 2019, in the context of the pullout of American troops from northern Syria, the New York Times reported that the Pentagon was planning to "leave 150 Special Operations forces at a base called al-Tanf".[45]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "New Syrian Army will 'liberate eastern Syria' from IS". The New Arab. 11 March 2016. Retrieved 22 October 2017.
  2. ^ Muhammad Ersan (1 June 2017). "Syrian rebel commander: 150 US troops at al-Tanf base". Al-Monitor. Archived from the original on 12 June 2017.
  3. ^ a b "Pentagon sends marines for snap live-fire drill in Syria as 'strong message' to Russia – reports". RT World News. Retrieved 12 September 2018.
  4. ^ "'Illegal Presence': US Must Pull its Forces Out of al-Tanf Base – Syrian FM". Retrieved 2020-03-31.
  5. ^ shaza (2017-11-16). "Russian Foreign Ministry: US troops presence in Syria illegal". Syrian Arab News Agency. Retrieved 2020-03-31.
  6. ^ shaza (2017-12-22). "Update-al-Jaafari: We demand immediate and unconditional withdrawal of foreign forces from Syrian territory". Syrian Arab News Agency. Retrieved 2020-03-31.
  7. ^ a b "Bolton Puts Conditions on Plan for Withdrawal From Syria". 7 January 2019.
  8. ^ "Shia militia with international coalition liberate Waleed along Syrian border".
  9. ^ "Iraqi tribal militia seizes strategic border area from Daesh".
  10. ^ Sommerville, Quentin (8 August 2016). "UK special forces pictured on the ground in Syria". BBC. Retrieved 9 November 2016.
  11. ^ Rebels reopen border crossing between Syria, Iraq, Syria Direct, 29 May 2017
  12. ^ a b Woody, Christopher (11 April 2017). "ISIS fighters got inside the wire during a hellish firefight with US Special Ops in Syria". Business Insider. Archived from the original on 13 April 2017.
  13. ^ a b Dickstein, Corey (10 April 2017). "US forces help repel ISIS attack on southern Syrian base". Stars and Stripes. Archived from the original on 13 April 2017.
  14. ^ Suleiman al-Khalidi (9 April 2017). "Islamic State launches two suicide attacks on U.S.-backed Syrian rebels". Reuters.
  15. ^ "Syria, Russia condemn US-led strike on pro-Assad forces". Retrieved 12 September 2018.
  16. ^ Ensor, Josie (18 May 2017). "US jets bomb Assad tank convoy advancing on coalition base in Syria". Retrieved 12 September 2018 – via
  17. ^ Exclusive: Photographs Show Russian Air Force Supporting Syrian Army on Al-Tanf Front Russia Insider, 23 May 2017.
  18. ^ Ми-35 ВКС РФ наносит удар по террористам у границ Иордании: видео Zvezda (TV channel), 26 May 2017.
  19. ^ "Iraqi forces remove Islamic State fighters from vicinity of U.S. base in Syria". Reuters. Retrieved 17 June 2017.
  20. ^ США готовят боевиков на базе в Эт-Танфе, рассказали в Генштабе RIA Novosti, 27 December 2017.
  21. ^ Начальник Генштаба Вооруженных сил России генерал армии Валерий Герасимов: «Мы переломили хребет ударным силам терроризма» Komsomolskaya Pravda, 26 December 2017.
  22. ^ Abu layth, Askandar (3 January 2018). "ماذا تعرف عن قاعدة "التنف" الأميركية في سوريا؟". حرية برس Horrya press (in Arabic).
  23. ^ "OIR Coalition conducts defeat-ISIS exercise in eastern Syria". CENTCOM. Retrieved 12 September 2018.
  24. ^ "За время существования базы Эт-Танф США не проводили операций против ИГ* – РИА Новости". 2018-01-09. Retrieved 2020-06-04.
  25. ^ "Massive $3.5 million drug-bust at At Tanf by Coalition-partnered security force". 14 November 2019. Retrieved 26 November 2019.
  26. ^ Snow, Shawn (February 16, 2020). "Iran-backed group launches attack near small garrison in Syria housing American special operators". Military Times. Maghaweir al-Thowra, an anti-ISIS U.S.-backed group, operates out of small garrison near the Iraq border. It tweeted Sunday that an Iran proxy launched an attack against its forces and breached the 55 km deconfliction zone that surrounds a small garrison housing American commandos known as al-Tanf. The anti-ISIS fighters said that they repelled the attack and that the Syrian regime had lost control of its allies – which the MAT described as a “rogue Iranian proxy.”
  27. ^ Maghaweir al-Thowra [@MaghaweirThowra] (February 16, 2020). "New intelligence suggests that #Iranian_proxies operating outside the control of the #Syrian_Regime attacked the Maghaweir Al-Thowra inside the 55km DCZ The Maghaweir Al-Thowra defended itself and repelled the aggressors. The Syrian Regime has lost control of its allies. #Altanf" (Tweet) – via Twitter.
  28. ^ Jared Szuba, Defectors quit last US-backed rebel group in Syria, head for regime territory, April 16, 2020, The Defense Post
  29. ^ "США сообщают о готовности уйти с базы Ат-Танф в Сирии". Kommersant. 20 September 2017.
  30. ^ Moscow Raises Questions About US Attack Against Pro-Damascus Forces in Syria
  31. ^ О развитии ситуации в Сирии // Брифинг официального представителя МИД России М.В.Захаровой, Москва, 8 февраля 2018 года
  32. ^ Exclusive: US special forces 'operating illegally in Syria', Sergey Lavrov tells euronews Euronews, 16 February 2018.
  33. ^ "Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov's interview with Euronews channel, February 16, 2018". Retrieved 12 September 2018.
  34. ^ США должны закрыть в Сирии зону деконфликтинга в Ат-Танфе, заявил Лавров RIA Novosti, 16 February 2018.
  35. ^ Middle East. "US official visits Syria's Kurdish-held territory". PressTV.
  36. ^ US force in Syria. "US will 'sell out' Rojava Kurds: Hezbollah chief". Rudaw.
  37. ^ "Jordan wont take over Al-Tanf after US withdrawal from Syria".
  38. ^ "US pushes NATO allies to join observer force in Syria". Fox News. 22 February 2019.
  39. ^ Trump backs off total Syria withdrawal. 23 February 2019
  40. ^ Russia and Syria call for US troops to leave Syria. 27 February 2018
  42. ^ "Displaced Syrians Deny Claims that US Detains Them in Al-Tanf Camp". VOA. 24 March 2019. Retrieved 30 March 2019.
  43. ^ "CJTF-OIR holds Ambassadors Day at Union III". Operation Inherent Resolve. Retrieved 2019-06-20.
  44. ^ Nicole Gaouette. "US sending 1,000 additional troops to Middle East amid Iran tensions". CNN. Retrieved 2019-06-20.
  45. ^ "Assad Forces Surge Forward in Syria as U.S. Pulls Back". The New York Times. 14 October 2019.

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