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Syrian troops advancing towards US and British special forces

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Bashar al-Assad’s troops are on a collision course with Western special forces, after advancing towards their training base in eastern Syria over the weekend, reported The Telegraph (UK).

Pro-government soldiers are now within 15 miles of al-Tanf - a heavily fortified hub for American and British special forces training Syrian rebel groups, which are fighting Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil) near the Iraqi border.

The assault is being led by Iranian forces, which are commanding Syrian troops and a number of Lebanese Hizbollah fighters with the help of Russian jets in the skies.

The Syrian army has been alarmed by two months of Free Syrian Army (FSA) advances against Isil that allowed the rebels to secure a large swathe of sparsely populated territory stretching from south east of Damascus all the way to the borders with Iraq and Jordan.

Syrian forces have in recent days moved tanks and surface-to-air missiles closer to the eastern frontline with the moderate FSA units in an apparent warning to the US-led coalition, which flies sorties against Isil in the area.

“The Iranians are the ones promoting their movement towards al-Tanf, using the slogan Fighting The Grand Satan i.e. the US and the international coalition,” Mozahem al-Saloum, spokesman for the Free Syrian Army brigade at the base, told the Telegraph.

The area is strategically important for the government and its allies.
Capturing the road all the way to the Tanf base would re-establish the regime’s link with ally Iraq in the south.

The Damascus-Baghdad highway was a major weapons supply route for Iranian weapons into Syria until Isil seized large territory along the Iraqi-Syrian border.

The Syrian army is also keen to be the first to arrive and seize control of Isil-held Deir Ezzor, north of Tanf, which is home to Syria’s biggest oil deposit.

The US has sent a clear message that any government advance towards their base will not be accepted. However, it is unclear how the special forces will react to any serious provocation.

Russia bombed the garrison in June 2016, however no injures were reported. US jets were scrambled in response, but failed to stop the aerial raid.

Mr Saloum said that if the unit came under threat, it would “bring enemies together in order to stop the regime moving any further,” referring to other factions of the FSA currently not cooperating with one another.

The recent deal signed in Kazakhstan to establish so-called safe zones in four areas of Syria has effectively frozen battles between the regime and rebels in the opposition’s main strongholds of Idlib, Homs, Deraa and Aleppo.

The halt of rebel activity in the most heavily contested areas in the north and centre of the country, coupled with the large-scale surrender of opposition fighters in Damascus, has freed up government troops to move east.

The development came as government and opposition delegations met in Geneva for the sixth round of United Nations-sponsored peace talks.

Efforts to end the war are now proceeding along two rival tracks: the formal political process hosted at UN headquarters in Switzerland and, since January, parallel talks in the Kazakhstan capital Astana brokered by Russia, Iran and Turkey.

***

Reinforcements from the Syrian Arab Army, the National Defense Forces, and Iraqi PMU-affiliated militias continue to pour from all across Syria to east Suweida and Eastern Qalamoun ahead of an anticipated massive offensive aimed at recapturing the Tanf Border Crossing which lies a 100 km from the recently-captured Zaza Checkpoint along the Damascus-Baghdad Highway, reported Al Masdar News (Syria).

The Tanf Border Crossing that links the Abbasid capital Baghdad to the Omayyad capital Damascus fell to Islamic State terrorists in the early summer of 2015 as exhausted government troops abandoned large swathes of eastern Homs and eastern Hama to focus on more pressing fronts in Dara’a, Damascus, and Idlib (which had witnessed the loss of the government’s last stronghold of Jisr Al-Shughour at around the same time).

Though the border crossing was under government control until mid-2015, it had been rendered inoperable as Islamist insurgents dominated the Iraqi side of the Badiyah a year earlier, cutting the vital route that linked Baghdad to Damascus. Currently, US-backed “Commandos of the Revolution” and “Jaish al-Asha’ir” control much of the region between Bir Qassab in east Suweida and the Deir Ezzor provincial boundary including the imperative border crossing.

Frantic about the prospects of US-backed forces establishing foothold along the Euphrates near Mayadeen and Al-Bukamal and eager to reopen the commercial routes to Iraq’s vibrant markets, Damascus made re-opening the strategic highway its utmost priority.

Opening the aforementioned highway would not only link the embattled government to its allies within Iraq, but would also establish a viable land route to Iran, where the impoverished country gets much of the military and financial support that has enabled it to withstand 6 years of attrition and brutal warfare in face of complete economic and political isolation due to merciless sanctions targeting every sector of the Syrian economy including the medical and public service sectors.

According to a military source in Damascus, the Syrian Arab Army is quickly trying to take control of the Al-Tanf Border-Crossing with Iraq before the U.S. and Jordanian military personnel consider entering the Homs Governorate.

If the Syrian Arab Army captures the Tanf Border-Crossing, they will be in position to improve their economic relationship with the Iraqi government, as both countries would share a safe border for the first time in four years.

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Reporter: Denes Osvalt
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Category: Politics
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