According to a military source from the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the US is allegedly constructing two military airbases in the Syrian Kurdistan to increase its presence and step up military support for the Syrian Kurdish forces.
The source said most of the work on a runway in the oil town of Rmeilan in al-Hasakah province was complete while a new air base southeast of Kobani, straddling the Turkish border, was being constructed with scores of US experts and technicians involved in the project.
Syrian Kurdish officials had recently said, the Rmeilan airstrip was being used by US military helicopters for logistics and deliveries.
According to satellite imagery previously obtained by the security analysts Stratfor, the US military started renovating and expanding a disused airbase near north-eastern borders with Iraq, where is significantly close to the Islamic State (IS) major stronghold of Mosul in Iraq.
The United States sent dozens of special operations troops to northern Syria last December to advise opposition forces in their fight against the militant group Islamic State.
They have also dropped supply munitions to rebels in the province.
The Syrian Kurds control wide areas of northern Syria and their militia is a major partner in the US-led coalition against IS. The US military ties with the Syrian Kurds have grown deeper despite the concerns of NATO ally Turkey, which views the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) as a terrorist organization not recognized as such by Washington.
The special US presidential envoy to the coalition against Islamic State, Brett McGurk, visited Kurdish-controlled northern Syria several weeks ago in what appeared to be the first declared trip to Syrian territory by an Obama administration official in three years.
Despite the divisions on the Kurdish issue, Turkey has also deepened cooperation with the CIA and other US spy agencies. CIA Director John Brennan has made repeated trips to Ankara, including in January, for meetings on counterterrorism operations. The CIA and its Turkish counterpart, known as MIT, operate a secret coordination center close to the Syrian border. The CIA-MIT partnership extends beyond work against foreign fighters, according to officials who said the agency flies drones over Syria from the Incirlik air base.
It would be propitious to note that just a few days ago Saudi Arabia acknowledged that the US-led anti-IS coalition has held a «political» discussion about a potential ground troops deployment in Syria.
In an interview with Reuters, an aide to Saudi Arabia's defense minister, Brigadier General Ahmed Asseri, confirmed that defense ministers from the anti-Islamic State coalition debated placing ground troops on the ground in Syria during a ministerial meeting in Brussels last month.
The United States announced on March 5 the start of the operation to free the city of Mosul, the stronghold of the Islamic State in Iraq.
The air bases in Syria are important as a springboard for intensifying the efforts to liberate Mosul and strike IS formations in case they are driven from Iraq into the Syrian territory. It explains the increase of US military presence on Syrian soil.
Meanwhile, McGurk confirmed that coalition forces have blocked supply routes between the Iraqi city and Raqqa, the de facto capital of Islamic state in Syria. This means literally pushing Islamic State back inside Syria, and retaking the entire Kurd-populated northern sector bordering Turkey.
The news about the US military activities in Syria came at the time a popular uprising in Islamic State stronghold Raqqa reportedly resulted in dozens of deaths as militias clashed with the terrorist group’s fighters.
The Russia-supported Syrian Arab Army (SAA) and the US-led coalition are competing in a race for Raqqa. Competition is a great driving force here. The US must do something to restore its image as Russia’s military operation in Syria has proven to be a commonly recognized success.
The very fact that the United States operates military facilities in Syria significantly escalates the level of its ground involvement in the conflict. Last October the US announced its decision to send Special Operations Forces (SOF) to Syria.
The SOF deployment was significantly expanded in December, 2015.
It all goes to show the US military is preparing a military action pretty soon. The Syrian Kurds are tough fighters when it comes to defending their territory. It may not be the case when it comes to pushing IS formations from Raqqa. By the end of last year, the US created the Syrian Defense Forces (SDF) playing down the Kurdish element to make it look like a multiethnic and multisectarian group. The true extent of Arab support is not known and Turkey has been engaged in a decades-old conflict with its own Kurdish minority, it does its best to prevent the Syrian Kurds from expanding.
A military operation will inevitably put American and allied forces closer to the areas where Russian and Syrian forces operate. It’s worth to note here that the US has denied any cooperation with Russia in Syria other than a formal memorandum of understanding about air safety to prevent the two militaries' air forces from colliding by accident.
Defense Secretary Ash Carter said there was «no intent» to discuss with Russia the deployment of US troops to Syria.
The United States is refusing to hold coordination with Russia on military issues in Syria, failing to act seriously and in an adult-like manner, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said at a press conference in late January.
Since then, the issue was on the bilateral agenda only once. On February 18, the US military revealed that Russia granted a US request not to target American special operations forces deployed to northern Syria. «When the decision was made to put special operators into Syria, there was a formal request made geographic areas specifically, not pinpoint locations, to protect the safety of our people», said Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook at a briefing.
The admission that the US military had a separate track for negotiating with the Russian Defense Ministry beyond the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed last year to «deconflict» aircraft was first disclosed by Air Force Lt. Gen. Charles Q. Brown, Jr., commander of US Air Forces Central Command.
Military bases in Syria commit Washington to a prolonged military presence in the country to parallel the decade-plus long military involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan. The predictable military drift from air strikes to taking territory provides a perpetual pretext for US intervention in Syria and the region, as the Rimelan airfield borders both Iraq and Turkey.
In the long run, a ground operation may lead to the de facto split of the country with the US and Russia directly supporting different sides in the fight against the common threat.
Operating a military base in Syria is a game changing decision that presupposes boots on the ground. The US administration appears to be prone to achieve a quick victory and boost the Democratic candidate’s chances in the presidential race. The risk is great as it may have the opposite effect of the expected outcome, especially, if the military infrastructure is built to support a unilateral action without due coordination with other actors and in defiance of previous agreements and in violation of international law as the US-led coalition has neither an agreement with the Syrian government, nor a resolution of the UN Security Council.