The U.S. military has, for now, given up on occupying south-east Syria. Recent remarks at the Department of Defense press conference concede the defeat of its original plans.
Let us recap: The U.S. military had occupied the al-Tanf border station between Syria and Iraq some 12 kilometer east of the Jordan-Syria-Iraq border triangle. The economically important road between Damascus and Baghdad runs through al-Tanf. When Syrian government forces moved towards the al-Tanf area the U.S. military bombed them and unilaterally claimed a "deconfliction-zone", i.e occupied territory, around the station.
The U.S. plan was to disrupt any connection between Syrian government held areas in the west and Iraq in th east by moving north from al-Tanf up to the Euphrates river valley around Deir Ezzor. The neoconservatives and Zionist propagandists claimed that this was necessary to interrupt the "Shia crescent" that allegedly would connect Iran through Iraq and Syria with Lebanon. The U.S. forces would thereby interrupt Iranian support for Hizbullah forces defending Lebanon from Israeli incursions. But the "Shia crescent" was never more than an idea. Iran supplies to Hizbullah have never depended on a land connection alone. The "crescent" connection was not disrupted when the U:S. occupied Iraq or when ISIS held the area.
The real U.S. plan was much larger. It wanted to control a Sunni corridor from the Saudi-Iraqi border in the south through Anbar province in west-Iraq through south-east Syria up through the Kurdish held north-east Syria to Turkey. This was the planned "Salafist principality" a 2012 Defense Intelligence paper had talked about.
The Syrian forces (red), with Iraqi support, sabotaged the U.S. plans by connecting west-Syria with the Syrian Iraqi border northward of the U.S. held area of al-Tanf (blue). They met allied Iraqi forces at the border north-east of al-Tanf and are now proceeding north-east along the border towards Abu Kamal and the Euphrates valley.
The Russian military command told the U.S. that any attack on those forces would be a very unfriendly act that would be severely punished. To make the point Iran fired medium range missiles from Iranian territory to Islamic State held areas in Syria. The Russian navy fired cruise missiles from the Mediterranean towards similar targets. The message was that the small U.S. contingent in al-Tanf would be toast if the U.S. military further messed around with the Syrian forces. Meanwhile Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) from Iraq, allied with Syria, closed off al-Tanf from the south. The U.S. forces there have nowhere to go but home.
As we wrote in our June 13 piece Syria Summary - The End Of The War Is Now In Sight:
The U.S. plans in south Syria, in the west as well as in the east, have failed for now. Unless the Trump administration is willing to invest significant more forces and to openly and against all laws wage war on the Syria government and its allies the situation there is contained. The Syrian forces will over time recapture all the (blue colored) land in the south that is currently held by the various U.S. proxies and other terrorist groups.
All recent provocation attempts by the U.S. failed to disrupt the Syrian government plans and its push towards Deir Ezzor.
In a little reported press conference on Friday the U.S. military practically conceded the defeat of its plans:
WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. military coalition fighting the Islamic State would welcome a concerted effort by the Syrian government or its Iranian-backed partner forces to defeat IS in its remaining strongholds in eastern Syria, a U.S. spokesman said Friday.
Army Col. Ryan Dillon, spokesman for the coalition, told reporters at the Pentagon that the U.S. goal is to defeat IS wherever it exists. If others, including the Syrian government and its Iranian and Russian allies, want to fight the extremists as well, then "we absolutely have no problem with that," he said, speaking from Baghdad.
From the transcript of that press conference:
Q: [...] [W]hat potential threat do you believe these Iranian backed militias and regime forces continue to pose to your forces and your partner forces in the At Tanf -- Abu Kamal area?
COL. DILLON: Well if the Syrian regime -- and it looks like they are making a concerted effort to move into ISIS held areas. And if they show that they can do that, that is not a bad sign. We are here to fight ISIS as a coalition, but if others want to fight ISIS and defeat them, then we absolutely have no problem with that. And as they move eastward toward Abu Kamal and to Deir Ezzour, if we -- as long as we can de-conflict and make sure that we can focus on what it is we're there to do, without having any kind of strategic mishaps with the regime or with pro-regime forces or with Russians, then that is -- we're perfectly happy with that.
In a later part the spokesperson also concedes that the forces in al-Tanf are now very constricted in their movement:
... if the regime is -- has moved into an area that is towards Abu Kamal, then we are going to be limited to how far out we do patrols [from al-Tanf] with our partner forces.
Somewhat later the point is made again and even clearer - al-Tanf is now useless and the Syrian army is free to do what it does:
COL. DILLON: So what I was saying about that is that, out of the At Tanf area, we have used that to train our partner forces and to continue to -- to fight ISIS, you know, if they are in and around that area.
You know, now that the regime has moved in, and they have made some significant, you know, progress, as it looks, towards moving to Abu Kamal and perhaps Deir Ezzour, if they want to fight ISIS in Abu Kamal and they have the capacity to do so, then, you know, that -- that would be welcome.
We as a coalition are not in the land-grab business. We're in the killing ISIS business, and that is what we want to do. And if -- if the Syrian regime wants to do that, and they are going to, again, put forth a concerted effort and show that they are -- are doing just that in Abu Kamal or Deir Ezzour or elsewhere, that means that we don't have to do that in those locations.
So I guess that -- what I'm saying is, in the At Tanf area, we will continue to train our partner forces. We will continue to do patrols in and around At Tanf in the Hamad desert. But if our access to Abu Kamal is shut off because the regime is there, that's okay.
NEWSFLASH: The Pentagon and, even more important, the U.S. commanders in the Middle East, have finally recognized the basic facts of life.
There is no way the Syrian government and its allies will let the U.S. have south-east Syria or let it occupy the country including the Syrian army garrison in Deir Ezzor which is currently surrounded by Islamic State forces. The Syrian army and its allies will liberate Deir Ezzor and the whole Euphrates valley. The U.S. military has now conceded that. There will be some huffing and puffing from the neoconservative corners but I doubt very much that this that this decision will be overturned or that this is a ruse. There is simply no strategic value for the U.S. in occupying south-east Syria and no will to defend it against determined resistance of capable opposing forces.
My congratulations to Syria and its allies. This battle is, for now, won.
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