- Russia has reportedly warned the US that its military and allied Syrian forces were ready to attack a key US-held base in Syria, according to a CNN report.
- Dozens of US forces are reportedly stationed at the base.
- The US warned Russia that it would defend itself if attacked.
Russia has reportedly warned the US that its military and allied Syrian forces were ready to attack a key US-held base near the border of Syria, Jordan, and Iraq, US defense officials said in a CNN report published on Thursday.
The Kremlin, which alleges that the US-led coalition base protects nearby militant troops, reportedly delivered two warnings in the past week, according to US officials. At Tanf, the base where a coalition of dozens of US troops and Syrian rebels launch counter-ISIS operations, is seen as a critical location within the scope of Iranian, Syrian, and Russian influence in the region.
“We have absolutely advised them to stay out of At Tanf,” a US official told CNN. “We are postured to respond.”
“The United States does not seek to fight the government of Syria or any groups that may be providing it support,” another official added. “However, if attacked, the United States will not hesitate to use necessary and proportionate force to defend US, coalition or partner forces.”
US troops would not need permission to defend themselves if attacked, which the US reiterated to the Kremlin, CNN reported.
A potential state-sanctioned attack by Russia could spark a flashpoint conflict within the region. Tensions were raised in February after dozens of Russian mercenaries were killed during a failed assault on a US-held position near the city of Deir al-Zor.
Russian forces have not recently been seen amassing their troops, however; the US military was still on alert, officials said. Senior military officials, including Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford, were reportedly aware of the warnings.
Russia’s warnings come amid Syria and Iran’s looming assault against the city of Idlib, where Syrian rebels have been cornered. Russia delivered an ominous warning last week on an impending chemical attack on the city, which some experts believe is an indication that the Syrian regime may indiscriminately use chemical weapons against the city.
The US followed up with a threat of its own, warning Syrian President Bashar al-Assad that if he “chooses to again use chemical weapons, the United States and its Allies will respond swiftly and appropriately.”
“President Donald J. Trump has warned that such an attack would be a reckless escalation of an already tragic conflict and would risk the lives of hundreds of thousands of people,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement.