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US mulls keeping troops in Syria to counter, attack Iranians in 'self-defense': Report

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
A US Marine soldier operating an 84 mm Carl Gustaf recoilless rifle near al-Tanf Garrison in Syria. (File photo)

Washington is considering a plan to illegally maintain a force contingent at a US military base in Syria to “combat” Iran’s influence in the region and even strike Iranians passing by near the base while purportedly claiming “self-defense,” despite a presidential order to pull out all US forces from the country, a report said.

Given the “strategic importance” of the al-Tanf garrison – located near Syria’s eastern border with Jordan – “the US government is considering a plan to keep at least some forces there,” US-based Foreign Policy news outlet reported Friday, quoting military sources that further insisted that a US presence at the base “helps to block Iran’s hope” for what they described as “a continuous land bridge from Iran through Iraq and Syria to Lebanon… that could threaten Israeli.”

“Al-Tanf is a critical element in the effort to prevent Iran from establishing a ground line of communications from Iran through Iraq through Syria to southern Lebanon in support of Lebanese Hezbollah,” said one former senior US military commander as quoted in the report.

US Marines with 3d Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, attached to Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force, Crisis Response-Central Command, prepare to board an MV-22 Osprey on to a site near al-Tanf Garrison in Syria on Sept. 7, 2018. (File photo)

The report further underlines that the significance of the garrison is not merely its strategic location,  but also a 55-kilometer exclusion zone around the garrison that allows intruding US forces “to claim self-defense in striking Iranian or other forces moving through that area,” citing a “source close to the discussions.”

“When they (Iranians) come through, we’ve claimed, I think reasonably, that they’ve been threatening either US forces or partner forces,” said the source as quoted in the report, which noted that legally, the US lacks the authority to attack a state actor such as Iran without provocation.

The report goes on to claim that al-Tanf sits along what it described as “a potential Iranian supply route through Iraq to Syria,” and has also become “a critical buttress for combating Iranian influence in the region.”

The development came after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo emphasized earlier this month that despite the pull-out of American troops from Syria, "the counter-Iran campaign continues," suggesting continued presence of some US troops at al-Tanf to counter Iranian influence in the Arab country.

Last month, US President Donald Trump ordered the withdrawal of nearly 2,000 American military service members in Syria while claiming victory over the foreign-backed Daesh (ISIL) terrorist group that shared Washington’s objective of overthrowing the Syrian government, boasting: “We have won against ISIS.”

Under the current withdrawal plan, the more than 200 US troops who have been collaborating with local anti-Damascus terrorists out of al-Tanf will be the last to leave Syria, according to military officials.

The report further points out that another potential problem in maintaining US forces at al-Tanf is that it violates the Trump’s initial troop pull-out orders from Syria.

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