The presence of a small, but strategically important, Special Operations base inside Syria might be in jeopardy after Congress raised concerns about its security.
Last week, Congress requested the Department of Defence (DoD) and the Director of National Intelligence Retired Vice Admiral Joseph Maguire, a former Navy SEAL, to assess the threat level of the al-Tanf base. More specifically, Congress is worried about the danger of an Iranian-motivated attack.
Since 2016, the base has been used for a variety of operations. From a staging and resupply base for Coalition SOF conducting direct action and long-range reconnaissance missions in Syria to a training camp for training partner anti-ISIS forces.
The Forward Operating Base (FOB) is surrounded by 55 kilometres (approximately 35 miles) buffer zone. That, however, hasn’t dissuaded ISIS and Iranian-backed militias from attacking the base in the past.
The deconfliction zone surrounding al-Tanf base (Image courtesy of the Foundation for Defence of Democracies).
Following the request of the Congress, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Army General Mark Milley stated that “we are in a period of heightened risk with respect to Iran,” and recommended that “restraint in this particular situation is an appropriate response.”
The SOF base, however, is just one place where Iran could strike. With more than 14,000 American troops stationed in the region, one could say that the Iranians are operating in a target-rich environment.
Some have argued that Iran is trying to create a land bridge to the Eastern Mediterranean. If we take into account the political and military sway that Tehran has in significant parts of Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, such arguments are valid.
U.K. Special Air Service (SAS) operators close to the al-Tanf base. (Image courtesy of YouTube.com).
A report penned by the Foundation for Defence of Democracies, argues that this land bridge is “a political construct that comprises a constellation of actors including Iran, allied states such as Syria, and non-state actors — principally Shiite militias — with varying degrees of ideological loyalty and operational independence, several of whom the U.S. has designated as terrorist organizations.” One of the authors of the report is the former National Security Advisor to President Trump, Lieutenant General H. R. McMaster.
According to the Syrian Minister of Information, [Iran’s] aim is for a geographical connection between Syria, Iraq and the axis of resistance.
Iran, through its clandestine Quds Force, would like nothing more than to cause harm to American warfighters. Syria, where proxy forces are the norm, is the ideal place to do some damage that would be hard to directly attribute back to Tehran.
The American garrison at al-Tanf numbers in the low hundreds.