On the night of April 8th, a U.S. Special Forces Forward Operating Base in Syria was nearly overrun when they came under attack by ISIS. The attack occurred in Al-Tanf, which is located near where the Syrian, Jordanian, and Iraqi borders intersect. Throughout the Syrian Civil War, most ISIS assaults have kicked off with a vehicular-borne improvised explosive device or VBIED. This was no exception, an ISIS suicide bomber driving his vehicle right up to the gate at Al-Tanf and exploding himself. The attack itself was widely reported in the media with a Pentagon official going as far as to say that the enemy, “got crushed” which they did. Various fake news websites reported that US Special Forces met ISIS in hand to hand combat, which they did not.
The Special Forces FOB is part of a long-standing program called Operation Gallant Phoenix designed to train indigenous partner forces in Syria and deploy them against ISIS. A more in-depth look at these programs can be found in a past SOFREP article. On that Saturday night, ISIS launched their complex attack against the base, initiating with the VBIED and then having their Jihadists form an assault line and open fire with Rocket Propelled Grenades and light machine guns.
Stationed on the base were elements of 2nd Battalion and 3rd Battalion, 5th Special Forces Group. Also present were members of Norwegian Special Operations (NORSOF). Well regarded within the Special Operations community, NORSOF consists of a ground based unit called FSK (Forsvarets Spesialkommando) and a maritime based unit called MJK. Marinejegerkommandoen (MJK), Norwary’s answer to the Navy SEALs was the unit present at Al Tanf that night. With approximately 16 local partner force soldiers cut down in the attack, the Green Berets and Norwegian SEALs launched their counter attack.
As they were inside Syria training their partner force, they had no other coalition military units there to back them up. The Special Forces soldiers called in for air support, but in the meantime they were on their own. The Green Berets made use of indirect fire, blasting ISIS with 60mm mortar rounds. Other Special Forces members returned fire with small arms. When the airstrike finally came, around forty ISIS jihadists were left dead. 5th Special Forces Group intends to award several Bronze Stars for valor for actions undertaken in combat that night.
With the enemy right up on top of the Special Forces men, one Green Beret remarked to SOFREP that, “we got real lucky” that none of the Americans were hurt or killed during the attack. There has been some speculation within the Special Forces community that the attack was timed after the recent American cruise missile strikes which hit Shayrat Airbase in retaliation for the use of chemical weapons in Idlib, ostensibly by the Assad regime. The facts of the matter as to what inspired the Al Tanf attack remain unclear however.
The Al Tanf attack comes in the midst of an ever confusing and opaque situation in Syria with recent cruise missile strikes direct against the Assad regime, the capturing of the Tabqa dam by American and Kurdish forces, and an friendly fire incident which killed 18 SDF members all happening in the last few weeks.
Lead image: US Special Forces conducts training as a part of the Flintlock Exercise. Courtesy of DOD.