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US Marines hold live-fire drills with Syrian rebel forces as message to Russia, Iran

Marines during training in Hajin, Syria, August 4, 2018. (Staff Sgt. Corey Hook/Flickr)
September 19, 2018

On Thursday, a Syrian rebel commander operating along the Syria-Jordan border said the live-fire exercises conducted by U.S. Marines and rebel forces in southern Syria sends a message that they have no intention of backing down and will confront any threats that interfere with their mission.

Numerous days of live fire military exercises have been carried out along the border as an extension of last week’s exercises at al-Tanf, Reuters reported. Al-Tanf lies on the Damascus-Baghdad highway, which was once a major supply route for Iranian weapons into Syria.

After Russia announced they would act against Islamist factions in the area, the al-Tanf exercises were carried out by Marines to warn Russia of the consequences.

Pentagon officials said the exercises are a “show of force” and a way for U.S. forces to “flex their muscles” in response to any threats.

The U.S. has issued a warning that a 55 km radius around al-Tanf is off limits to all other forces, although the Syrian government and Russia have made many requests for the removal of U.S. troops from al-Tanf. The Syrian government, Russian and Iranian allies, have wanted control of the area.

According to rebels, hundreds more U.S. Marines arrived this month in Tanf to join special operations troops already based in the garrison and participate in the drills, ignoring Syrian and Russian pleas.

Colonel Muhanad al Talaa, commander of the Pentagon-backed Maghawir al Thawra group said: “These exercises have a big importance and have beefed up the defenses of the area and raised the combat capabilities and morale and that of civilians in the area.”

A U.S. military spokesman said the exercises were a show of force and that the Pentagon had notified Moscow through “deconfliction” channels to prevent “miscommunication or escalate tension.”

Colonel Sean Ryan said: “The exercise was conducted to reinforce our capabilities and ensure we are ready to respond to any threat to our forces within our area of operations. We are staying whether the Russians or Iranians want it or not.”

A “deconfliction zone” has become established as a safe port of call for over 50,000 civilians residing in the Rukban camp within the zone. The zone was formed throughout battles with ISIS militants who once controlled large areas of east Syria near the Iraq border. It is completely surrounded by desert.

The base then acts as a barricade against Iran, countering Iranian military expansion in the region.

In August, Russia’s defense ministry accused Washington of giving refuge to Islamic State militants within the zone.

Talaa said: “The American position has changed completely toward the Iranians. Before it was just putting a line to the Iranians not to approach the areas. Tehran’s failure to end its military presence in Syria could provoke a U.S. military response. If Tehran does not respond to the demands of the Americans, there is a big likelihood they will be hit. It’s inevitable the Iranians leave Syria. This should happen quickly and in a decisive way.”