The US base at Tanf in eastern Syria on the Iraq border (File)
The US military has rejected a Russian call for a jointly-operated base in eastern Syria.
Russia has been pursuing a PR campaign for American withdrawal from the Tanf base near the Iraqi and Jordanian borders. It has put out propaganda claims such as US training of “extremists” and sheltering of Islamic State fighters within the 55-km (34-mile) exclusion zone around Tanf.
Gen. Valery Gerasimov, Chief of the Russian military’s General Staff, tried another gambit on Thursday at a foreign policy briefing after accusing the US of permitting “illegal armed groups to continue their terrorist activity under [Tanf’s] cover, making periodic sorties against the government forces”.
The general and other Russian officials suggested joint Russian-American control and the base and the nearby crossing, one of three official posts between Syria and Iraq.
“However, the American partners left our proposal unanswered,” Gerasimov said.
Col. Sean Ryan, a spokesman for the US-led coalition, confirmed the rejection:
The coalition has stated from the beginning of establishing the 55-km deconfliction zone that we are not looking for, nor need any help in the area around al-Tanf. The process is working and any interference only adds to an already complex battlefield environment.
Asked if Russia had sought joint control for some time, Ryan replied, “No, not at all.”
He said the only Russian approach to the coalition was over a UN aid delivery into the Rukban camp near the Jordanian border in early December.
The convoy into the area with 50,000 displaced Syrians was the first since January, after the Assad regime cut off the camp in an attempt to force the residents to return to their home area.
The US established Tanf after it created the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces in autumn 2015 to push the Islamic State out of northern and eastern Syria. The military says the base and its exclusion zone are now part of an effort to restrict the influence of Iran, a key ally of the Assad regime, in the region.
Russia has pressed for an American withdrawal from Syria, which would open the way for the regime to move against Kurdish control of about 1/3 of Syrian territory.
Head of Joint Chiefs of Staff: US to Train Up to 40,000 Local Fighters
The head of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff has pointed to an extended American mission in Syria, with the training of up to 40,000 local fighters to secure areas taken from the Islamic State.
Dunford told an audience in Washington that progress continues in the offensives to remove ISIS from Syria, but that US personnel have only trained and equipped about 20% of the force of 35,000 to 40,000 troops for stabilization operations.
Russian State media fume, “Territories liberated from IS by the [US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces] have not been returned to government control; instead, the US-backed fighters have set up a parallel government structure there.”
Assad Announces Dream Budget
Bashar al-Assad announced a State budget for 2019 of $8.9 billion, an increase of about 22% from this year’s $7.3 billion, with more than a third allocated to investment projects.
Assad gave no indication of how his regime will finance the budget after a drop of about 75% in GDP during Syria’s 92-month conflict.
Instead, Finance Minister Mamun Hamdan said that $1 billion will be dedicated to “investment projects in liberated areas or to which the Syrian army brings back stability”.
He added that $1.6 billion will be spent on electricity programs, without specifying in which areas.
Hamdan said the projected budget deficit is almost $2.2 billion. He did not explain how it will be financed.