first published on June 15, 2017 by Will
While the ISIS foothold on Syria continues to recede, independent forces are laying claim to the newly liberated soil, and as a result, fighting has erupted as US-backed forces are now engaged against Russian-backed Syrian troops, pro-Syrian regime militias, and even the Iranian-led Iraqi Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) on multiple fronts across Syria. The situation is dire as the months of loose tolerance between competing forces now appears to be on the brink of total collapse.
There are three key flashpoints where current hostile engagements are being reported between US-backed groups and other anti-ISIS forces. They are as follows:
Certainly the most notable of the three, At Tanf is strategically situated just inside Syria, where the borders of Iraq, Jordan, and Syria all meet. This was the location at which a US F-15E fighter jet recently shot down an Iranian Shahed 129 attack drone after the craft reportedly fired a “dud” munition into a group of Western coalition-embedded fighting forces.
The Iranians reportedly responded with the following video, saying “We can shoot you down anytime, but we have pity on you.”
Additionally, on May 18th and June 5th, US airstrikes targeted Iranian-led, pro-Syrian regime fighters as they encroached a predetermined “deconfliction zone.” The strikes destroyed technicals, artillery pieces, damaged a tank, and killed an unknown amount of troops.
It was announced that the US military just moved long-range High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS) from Jordan into At Tanf as the security situation continues to deteriorate. Keep in mind that while hostilities continue to escalate between US and pro-regime forces, the US and UK Special Operations troops are under almost daily attack by the Islamic State as well.
At Tanf is being used as a Spec Ops forward operating base to stage New Syrian Army (rebranded FSA/AQ?) Sunni proxy forces to carry out missions into Syria. The New Syrian Army (NSA) are trained in Jordan and advised by Jordanian, UK, and US special operations teams. One would assume their major role is to rapidly advance northeast to Der Ezoir, where the likely follow-on coalition operation will begin after the liberation of Raqqa. The reason for the recent hostile engagements is because the Russian, Syrian, and Iranian forces have now set up blocking positions in the intended path of the NSA. Meanwhile those pro-Regime forces are making headway out of Palmyra in an effort to get to Der Ezoir first.
Just west of besieged Raqqa, in vicinity of the newly liberated Taqba Dam area, Russian-backed Syrian Arab Army (SAA) Tiger Forces and US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces have been engaged in ongoing clashes in which multiple military vehicles on both sides have been destroyed.
The SAA troops are attempting to gain access to Raqqa from the west, but their access is all but cut off by the Kurdish-led SDF in the area. The fighting is especially significant being as that Western and Russian special operations troops are both embedded amongst the opposing forces.
Facing this resistance, the SAA troops appear to be swinging south and east in an attempt to encircle the SDF with hopes of cutting them off further down the Euphrates River and blocking them from Der Ezoir. Although the SDF has been rapidly crushing ISIS in Raqqa, they now have to split their forces to pull additional rear security as Syrian troops probe their lines for weaknesses.
Hasakah Province (Iraq/Syria border)
As the battle for Mosul comes to its inevitable, bloody close, ISIS fighters only hold a small portion of the city. This has freed up the Iranian-led Shia Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces (PMU) to push west across Iraq to the Syrian border and have now entered Hasakah province north of Der Ezoir.
The SDF’s Kurdish YPG forces have repeatedly warned the PMU to stay in Iraq and out of Kurdish-claimed Rojava territory. Despite that, our sources are telling us that skirmishes between the US-backed SDF and the Iranian-led PMU are ongoing far west of Sinjar and into Syria.
For several months these separate players were able to tolerate each other and miraculously avoid major international incidents in such a cluttered and decentralized battle space. It would seem that the Syrian War is on the verge of another major shift as ISIS continues to crumble and all other parties vie for strategic supremacy. This article also doesn’t touch on the Turkish military or their proxy forces that will be looking for every opportunity to take ground and establish influence. Based on the information available, Der Ezoir seems to be the major focal point of the race through Syria.
The following video does well to illustrate the current escalations from the Syrian regime point of view.