(Photo credit: NATO)
A Syrian security source told Russian media outlet Sputnik on 4 March that the recent ISIS attacks against civilians and truffle harvesters in Syria’s desert region were carried out with support from the US military.
According to the source, these militants received training at Washington’s eastern Al-Tanf occupation base, and were given military and logistical support to carry out recent attacks against civilians, truffle harvesters, shepherds, commercial convoys, and Syrian army positions on the Homs-Deir Ezzor and Homs-Raqqa roads and other areas.
The source adds that ‘available information’ indicates that a few months ago, US forces began training separate armed groups, made up of a total of 40 to 60 individuals, in the Al-Tanf base. Some of these militants were being trained with the goal of deploying them to Ukraine, while others were sent out with the goal of launching operations in Deraa and Suwayda to undermine security.
However, the last of these groups were “diverted” to the Syrian desert areas surrounding Hama and Homs, where the ancient city of Palmyra is located.
The source goes on to say that active US support for ISIS in these areas is being given in order to “fill the media” with headlines relating to the extremist group’s presence in Syria, thereby ‘legitimizing’ the continued presence of the US military in the country.
Last year, joint Syrian-Russian operations against ISIS in the Al-Badia desert resulted in a decline in the group’s activity. The source claimed that Washington is actively instigating security concerns for the Syrian state, “in light of the reduction of tension on its northern borders.”
Washington is aspiring to pressure Damascus into making “concessions to armed groups … and is spreading the impression that potential agreements with Türkiye will not lead to a reduction in escalation in the country, thus blocking the path” of normalization with the Syrian state.
Regardless, the source went on to say that the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) has sent large reinforcements to the desert regions, and is regularly carrying out search operations, as the militants are known to carry out hit-and-run attacks and ambushes before disappearing into the areas overseen “by the American presence in Al-Tanf.”
On 17 February, around 53 people were killed in an attack by ISIS militants near Homs. Additionally, dozens have been reported dead and missing from a previous attack in Palmyra which took place on 11 February.
The ISIS activity in these areas has been ongoing. On 3 March, SAA units repelled an attack by militants on motorbikes in the Deir Ezzor countryside, who then proceeded to kidnap a group of shepherds and disappear. The previous day, six civilian truffle harvesters were killed near Hama after a mine planted in their car exploded, injuring around 40 others.
Reports of US support for ISIS in Syria are nothing new. Many, including Syrian and Russian officials, have suggested that Washington aims to bolster its occupation in the country by using the extremist group’s presence as a pretext.