Russian officials have reportedly floated the idea of jointly running a U.S.-controlled corridor known as Al Tanf, located on the Iraq-Syria border near Jordan, where U.S. troops are garrisoned.
Gen. Valery Gerasimov, chief of the Russian military’s General Staff, said the presence of American military bases on Syrian territory is a major unresolved issue for his forces.
“Let’s take Al Tanf, for example," he said Wednesday at a foreign policy briefing. “The United States established the so-called 55-km security zone around this community, and illegal armed groups continue their terrorist activity under its cover, making periodic sorties against the government forces.”
Gerasimov and other Russian officials reportedly suggested removing the security zone around Al Tanf and instead establishing joint Russian-American control over the key transit area there, one of three official border crossings between Syria and Iraq.
“However, the American partners left our proposal unanswered,” he said.
The Inherent Resolve coalition told Military Times that jointly running the corridor with Russian forces is not necessary.
“The coalition has stated from the beginning of establishing the 55-km deconfliction zone that we are not looking for, nor need any help in the area around Al Tanf," Army Col. Sean Ryan, a spokesman for the coalition, said. "The process is working and any interference only adds to an already complex battlefield environment.”
When asked if Russians had been lobbying for this change for a while, Ryan said “no, not at all."
“The Rukban UN delivery was the only time I’m tracking the deconfliction zone was even brought up,” he added, referencing a United Nations and Syrian Arab Red Crescent effort to get aid supplies to displaced Syrians in a remote desert camp near the border area.
The Syrian and Russian governments have blamed U.S. troops stationed at Al Tanf for failing to provide security for aid shipments. The Pentagon denied those allegations.
The U.S.-led coalition said Maghaweir al-Thowra, a U.S.-backed Syrian rebel group fighting ISIS, provided security for the aid delivery in early November.
This fall, Pentagon officials said they need to maintain a military presence in eastern Syria in order to counter Iran, which they said transports military equipment through the border.
Gerasimov also took time during the foreign affairs briefing to allege that the U.S. military was working to create a pseudo-state east of the Euphrates River.
He said the U.S.-backed Syrian Kurds, who played a major role in the coalition’s anti-ISIS offensives, were being used as a proxy against the Syrian regime.
“They are also forming a government for the so-called Democratic Federation of Northern Syria," Gerasimov said, using a term for a de facto autonomous region in northern Syria not recognized by the Syrian regime in power.
“The Americans, that support the Kurds’ separatist sentiments by delivering arms and military equipment, allow them to oppress Arab tribes.”
Kyle Rempfer is an editor and reporter who has covered combat operations, criminal cases, foreign military assistance and training accidents. Before entering journalism, Kyle served in U.S. Air Force Special Tactics and deployed in 2014 to Paktika Province, Afghanistan, and Baghdad, Iraq. Follow on Twitter @Kyle_Rempfer