The US-led coalition is training militants at the Syrian Hasakah refugee camp located 70 kilometers from the border of Turkey and 50 kilometers from the border of Iraq. The New Syria Army is being formed at the location to fight the Syrian government forces in southern Syria. The US Special Operations Forces (SOF) are playing the main role in the process. According to Russia’s Center for Reconciliation of Warring Parties, most of these militants come from Islamic State and Al Nusra Front terrorist groups. Around 750 fighters from Raqqa, Deir-ez-Zor, Abu Kamal and the eastern territories of the Euphrates, including Islamic State terrorists who flew Raqqa in October, are going through the training process.
In November, Russia accused the US of establishing a training camp for militants near Rukban to form a new “moderate” opposition.
The location of the US military base, in Rmeilan district, the Hasakah province, was reported by Anadolu news agency, which unveiled a list of ten US outposts located in areas controlled by Kurdish militias in the provinces of Aleppo, Hasakah and Raqqa. The American forces are strategically placed so as to prevent Syria’s government troops from retaking territory in the northern and southeastern regions. Washington tried to prevent US media from reprinting the story, after it had already appeared in the Turkish media.
The US deployed SOF to northern Syria this summer. The base in Rmeilan has an airfield through which cargo aircraft deliver weapons to the fighters – one of the two major arms routes into the country, along with a land route from Iraq. No doubt, the military bases in Syria are set up in violation of international law on the territory of a sovereign country that has never taken any offensive action towards the US.
The infrastructure and the formation of the New Syrian Army are signs that Washington views Syria as part of a broader front against the influence of Russia and Iran. The US-allied Syrian Kurds are tough fighters when it comes to defending their territory but it may not be the case when it comes to other areas. The Kurds-dominated Syria Democratic Forces (SDF) group has already reached its geographical limits, and will not risk losing its most valuable lands through overstretching its forces. The US needs other groups to rely on and it’s not too selective while recruiting the fighters to fill the ranks.
Obviously, the new armed force will be used to conduct offensive operations outside the SDF-controlled areas. In late November, the US said it suspended supplying arms to the Syrian Kurds to avoid further aggravation of tensions with Turkey. Arming a new force manned by Sunni Arabs will not create problems to negatively affect the relationship with the Sunni NATO ally.
Another consideration – the Sunni monarchies of the Persian Gulf monarchies will be willing to contribute. The US has just displayed an array of Iranian weapons collected from the Yemen battlefield, including remains of the Iranian-made short-range Qaim ballistic missile fired from Yemen on Nov. 4 at the international airport outside the Saudi capital of Riyadh. The weapons were exhibited on Dec.14 for the first time at a US base outside Washington (the warehouse at Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling) as “concrete proof” of Iran’s violation of UN resolutions. All of the recovered weapons were provided to the United States by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Under UN Resolution 2231 endorsing the 2015 nuclear deal, Iran is banned from supplying, selling or transferring weapons outside the country unless approved by the UN Security Council. A separate resolution bans the supply of weapons to Yemen's Houthis. Members of Congress, the press and representatives of foreign governments could inspect them. The move is clearly designed to make other countries support actions undertaken to confront Iran in the Middle East.
Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the UN, seized the opportunity to call for an international coalition to counter Iran's influence in the Middle East, while accusing it of "fanning the flames of conflict" in the region. The US is going to "build a coalition to really push back against Iran and what they're doing", Haley said, without going into specifics. Saudi Arabia welcomed the ambassador’s comments on Dec.14, saying it condemned "the Iranian regime for its flagrant violations of the international resolutions and norms". The UAE, which is part of the Saudi-led coalition, said the evidence provided by the US "leaves no doubt about Iran's flagrant disregard for its UN obligations, and its role in the proliferation and trafficking of weapons in the region". Symbolically, a new round of UN-brokered Syria peace talks in Geneva ended without results on the very same day – Dec.14.
The events in Iraq also add to the picture – the US is preparing for confrontation with Iran. A confrontation with Iran in Syria would be synonymous with the new phase of war in the region, leaving a far greater impact than a mere upgrade of the Syrian conflict.
The creation of the new army at a time the hopes are high that the Astana and Geneva peace talks will achieve progress is a very worrisome event. Instead of diplomatic initiatives, the US prefers to launch war preparations. Even talking with Russian officials, it’s always about de-escalation, never about peace process. Creating the new army is an attempt to make Syria remain fragmented into multiple, semiautonomous parts, defying central authority. The money spent on the new force cannot go down the drain. The newly created army will move to capture new territories and inevitably escalate violence. While calling for peace in Syria, the US is preparing for war, which may spark pretty soon.