Drone strikes at US military base in Syria’s al-Tanf reiterate its dubious role 

The base in al-Tanf was built by the US during the war against ISIS in 2016 without the consent of the Syrian government. The US is accused of using the base to train anti-Assad forces and steal the country’s resources 

August 16, 2022 by Abdul Rahman
On Monday, SANA reported that at least 100 tankers of Syrian oil were illegally transferred by US troops to northern Iraq via the illegal border crossing at Mahmoudiya. (Photo: SANA)

Two drones struck the US’ illegal al-Tanf base in Syria on Monday, August 15, according to a statement issued by the US forces. No group has taken responsibility for the attack so far in which no casualties were reported, Reuters reported. The attack on al-Tanf comes at a time when the base is at the center of accusations by the Syrian government which claims that it is being used to support the loot of billions of dollars worth of Syrian oil resources and prolonging the war in the country.   

According to the US statement, one of the drones was engaged by its forces and destroyed before it could enter the base. The second drone landed inside the building but did not cause any casualties or significant damage. 

The attack came hours after an Israeli airstrike killed three Syrian soldiers in Tartus on Sunday. The Israeli media reported that the attack in Tartus was allegedly against an Iranian base. 

The al-Tanf base was the target of a similar attack in October 2021, when drones caused massive damage to it. The base, built in 2016, is located in Syria’s Homs province near the Jordan and Iraq borders. It has a garrison and other facilities that were built without the Syrian government’s consent. The US government claims that the base provides training and support to forces fighting against the Islamic State or ISIS. 

However, the Syrian government claims that the base is illegal and a violation of international law and Syrian sovereignty. Accusing it of playing a dubious role in the war and looting the country’s resources, the Syrian government has been demanding that the international community take action and force the US to withdraw its forces from the country.  

Al-Tanf used to train anti-Assad forces

The government of Bashar al-Assad has accused the US of using the base to train forces fighting against it to prolong the war in the country. In May, the Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) reported that the Maghawir al-Thawra (previously known as the New Syrian Army) was trained by the US forces and given the M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System or HIMARS to fight against the Assad government. 

The Syrian government alleges that US forces used the pretext of fighting ISIS to deliberately prolong their stay in the country despite the fact that former US President Donald Trump declared complete victory against ISIS in Syria in 2019.  

Syria claims that the US is fueling the war by providing constant military support to anti-Assad forces and preventing the unification of the country. According to some reports, al-Tanf has also been used by Israeli forces to coordinate their attacks inside Syria.

Israel has launched hundreds of airstrikes inside Syria since the beginning of the war in 2012. These attacks have killed hundreds of people, including those who died in Sunday’s strike in Tartus. According to a recent report in The Wall Street Journal, all Israeli airstrikes inside Syria are reviewed by the US.    

Stealth of Syrian oil resources

Syria has time and again accused the US forces of stealing its natural resources in collaboration with the non-state armed groups fighting against the Assad regime. Al-Tanf is based near Syria’s main oil fields in Deir al-Zour, which is under the control of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).  

On Monday, SANA reported that at least 100 tankers of Syrian oil were illegally transferred by US troops to northern Iraq via the illegal border crossing at Mahmoudiya. This was in addition to 89 tankers of oil transferred on Saturday, footage of which shows a long line of trucks moving towards the Syria-Iraq border.  

Prior to the war, export of oil was one of the main sources of state revenue for Syria. Oil production has been greatly affected by the decade-long war in the country. Both ISIS and the US forces in alliance with local militias have been accused of stealing Syrian oil. According to a government estimate earlier this month, the country produces around 80,000 barrels of oil every day, out of which 66,000 barrels are stolen by the US-backed forces and sold via Iraq. This amounts to over a billion dollars worth of Syrian oil allegedly smuggled by the US forces so far. 

Given the widespread suffering and impoverishment of millions of Syrian citizens caused by the protracted war and the unilateral sanctions imposed by the EU and the US, the loss of crucial oil revenues is a big setback for Syria. 

While justifying the reversal of his decision to withdraw US forces from Syria in October 2020 following the Turkish invasion of the country, Trump had justified the control of oil resources as the main reason for the presence of US troops in the country.