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Published On: Sat, Jun 17th, 2017

U.S.-backed Iraqi forces capture Al-Waleed border crossing to Syria, deny Iranian-backed fighters access

Christof Lehmann (nsnbc) : Iraqi military and U.S.-backed Iraqi – Sunni tribal fighters captured the al-Waleed border crossing into Syria, allegedly from the Islamic State. However, U.S.-backed forces in Al-Tanf, Syria, are primarily operating against Iranian-backed fighters in the Jordan – Iraq – Syria tri-border region.

Sunni Tribal-fighters_Iraq_-(archives)U.S.-supported Iraqi tribal fighters and the Iraqi military reported Saturday they had captured the al-Waleed border crossing from the Islamic State. The capture of the Al-Waleed crossing puts tribal Sunni fighters close to U.S. special forces as well as U.S.-backed fighters in Al-Tanf, Syria, near the Jordanian border.

Aircraft from the U.S.-led coalition and the Iraqi air force took part in the operation, the statement said. The operation also gave access to the Baghdad-Damascus highway, where U.S. forces have assisted Syrian “rebels”, allegedly trying to” recapture territory from Islamic State”.

U.S. forces have been based at Tanf since last year, in effect preventing Iranian-backed forces supporting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad from receiving  weaponry from Iran by using the main highway between Iraq and Syria. The involvement of Iraqi Sunni tribal fighters in the operation to dislodge the militants from al-Waleed is another indication that the United States tries to deny Iran and Hezbollah access to the highway.

Pro government forces in Syria, including Shia militia,  last week reached the Iraqi border north-east of Tanf, potentially preventing the U.S.-backed “rebels” from taking more territory in the tri-border region.

On May 18, according to USCENTCOM, the coalition carried out air strikes against an “Iranian controlled unit” that was “threatening coalition forces” in Al-Tanf, Syria. On June 6, at 17:40 a similar incident occurred, and USCENTCOM claimed again the right to “self-defense”.

The “coalition” claims it merely wants to combat ISIS and that “The Coalition does not seek to fight Syrian regime, Russian or pro-regime forces partnered with them. The demonstrated hostile intent and actions of pro-regime forces near Coalition and partner forces in southern Syria, however, continue to concern us and the Coalition will take appropriate measures to protect our forces. … As long as pro-regime forces are oriented toward Coalition and partnered forces the potential for conflict is escalated.  Coalition forces are oriented on ISIS in the Euphrates River Valley. The Coalition calls on all parties to focus their efforts in the same direction to defeat ISIS, which is our common enemy and the greatest threat to regional and worldwide peace and security.”

Asked by nsnbc about the so-called deconfliction zone and the legal status of U.S. forces operating in Al-Tang and southern Syria, U.S. Defense Department spokesman Eric Pahon explained:

“A deconfliction zone is not a line in the sand, and it is not the same concept as the de-escalation zones that have been in the news. Syrian troops can operate anywhere in their country they want. Our actions in al-Tanf are about defending ourselves against an assessed threat which really has little to do with any kind of zone, although the word was mentioned quite a bit, mostly as a convenient unit measure.”

Asked about the legal basis for establishing such a “deconfliction zone”, such as a  relevant UN Security Council resolution or other legal frameworks, Pahon invoked a Memorandum of Understanding between the United States and Russia instead, saying:

“There is a memorandum of understanting between the U.S. and Russian militaries with the intent to help ensure safety of flight and deconflict air operations to avoid mishaps. Operation Inherent Resolve is a complex, dynamic environment for air and ground operations, with multiple groups fighting in close proximity. As we focus on destroying ISIS, we remain ever-cognizant of the need for constant, regular communication to avoid an action that could result in a strategic miscalculation by any of the actors operating in the battles space”.

Pertaining the concept of self-defense and the legal basis for the presence of U.S. troops in Syria and thereby their presumed right to “defend themselves”, Pahon said:

U.S. military commanders always retain the inherent right and obligation to exercise the customary international law of right of self-defense in response to a hostile act or demonstrated hostile intent.

Neither Col Joseph Scrocca’s nor Defense Department spokesman Pahon’s statements clarify the legal basis for the presence of U.S. troops in Syria. A legal basis for their presence would, for example, be an authorization issued by the Syrian government, a UN security Council resolution that has been adopted with the concurrent vote of all five permanent UNSC members. nsnbc hopes the Defense Department will clarify questions about the legality of U.S. troops in Syria, and we will be asking the Russian Ministry of Defense for an opinion about the deconfliction zone and the incidents on May 18, June 6, and June 8 in Al-Tanf.

CH/L – nsnbc 17.06.2017

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About the Author

- Dr. Christof Lehmann is the founder and editor of nsnbc. He is a psychologist and former independent political consultant on conflict, conflict resolution and a wide range of other political issues. In March 2013 he established nsnbc as a daily, independent, international on-line newspaper. He can be contacted at nsnbc international at nsnbc.wordpress@gmail.com

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