Skip to main content

U.S. Toops Invade Syria: Take Over Air Base

By Andrew Tilghman

U.S. special operations troops have reportedly taken over an airfield in northeastern Syria, potentially clearing the way to flow more American military support to friendly militias fighting the Islamic State group.

A small team of U.S. troops is setting up a base camp at Rmeilan Air Base in the Syrian Kurdish region near Syria's Iraqi and Turkish borders, according to local reports.

American helicopters operated at the base over the past couple of weeks as local workers expanded the runway, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The airfield was until recently under control of the Syrian Kurdish forces, known as the YPG, but was turned over to the U.S. to help expand American support for the Syrian Democratic Forces, which is the loose-knit coalition of American-backed militants fighting the Islamic State group.

"Under a deal with the YPG, the U.S. was given control of the airport. The purpose of this deal is to back up the SDF, by providing weapons and an air base for U.S. warplanes," an SDF spokesperson, Taj Kordsh, told Al-Jazeera, the Qatar-based international news network, in a report published Wednesday.

In December, a team of fewer than 50 U.S. special operations troops entered Syria for the first time and made face-to-face contact with the friendly Syrian militants, defense official said.

A spokesman for the U.S. Defense Department, Army Col. Steve Warren, declined to comment on the reports of Americans using the base.

"That operation is ongoing. But because of the special nature of these forces, it's very important that we not discuss specifically where they're located," Warren told reporters Wednesday.

Rmeilan is near some of Syria's major oil production facilities.
The airfield is in the Hasakah region, where American-backed militias have been mounting offensive operations against Islamic State-held territory northeast of the extremist group's stronghold in Raqqa.

It is also near a key supply line connecting Raqqa to the Islamic State group's second major city, Mosul, Iraq. Cutting that supply line is a key piece of the current American strategy for defeating the group.

Control of the airfield would help U.S. troops expedite delivery of weapons and ammunition to the region as well as operate more aircraft such as medevac helicopters, armed drones or intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance platforms.

Imagery Supports Claims of U.S. Military Activity in Syria
Analysis

January 22, 2016 "Information Clearing House" - "Stratfor " - As Syria's rebel coalition expands its fight against the Islamic State, so too does it appear that the United States is expanding its support of the rebels. Low-resolution satellite imagery taken Dec. 28 shows construction underway to extend the runway at an airfield in Rmeilan, al-Hasaka province, which would prepare the site to accommodate larger aircraft. (Similar images captured over the course of the last few weeks had been obscured by cloud cover, making it difficult to discern more recent ground activity.) Rumors of the U.S. arrival at Rmeilan originally surfaced in early January; the images confirm that at least some of those rumors are true.

Before the war, the airfield was an agricultural airstrip used by the Syrian government. As such, its runway was only 2,300 feet (700 meters) long, a length that appears to be doubling. The airfield has since been captured by the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG), which has controlled the airport for more than two years.



The new and improved infrastructure could help the Syrian Democratic Forces conduct offensive operations against the Islamic State. The United States has already carried out two weapons airdrops to the rebel Syrian Arab Coalition, a faction of the Syrian Democratic Forces. But additional assistance in the Syrian Democratic Forces' fight against the Islamic State, including efforts to drive the extremist group from its self-declared capital in Raqqa, would require a broader logistical effort than is currently underway. Expanding the Rmeilan runway could expedite this process by allowing U.S. airplanes to land and drop off supplies instead of continuing to rely on airdrops.

The U.S. involvement in al-Hasaka province would not be so unusual; the United States nearly always attempts to establish an air bridge to support the semi-permanent positions of the conflicts in which it operates. But it comes at a time when Russia similarly builds up its own military presence there. A Russian detachment composed of logistics personnel and military intelligence officers has reportedly arrived in Qamishli airport, an airfield in al-Hasaka controlled by forces loyal to the Syrian government. While the Russians will likely try to improve the logistical capability of the airfield, they have reportedly already sought to enhance their influence with the various rebel militia groups operating in the province.

Copyright © 2016. Stratfor | P.O. Box 92529, Austin, Texas 78709-2529, USA

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Why States Still Use Barrel Bombs

Smoke ascends after a Syrian military helicopter allegedly dropped a barrel bomb over the city of Daraya on Jan. 31.(FADI DIRANI/AFP/Getty Images)

Summary
Barrel bombs are not especially effective weapons. They are often poorly constructed; they fail to detonate more often than other devices constructed for a similar purpose; and their lack of precision means they can have a disproportionate effect on civilian populations.

However, combatants continue to use barrel bombs in conflicts, including in recent and ongoing conflicts in Africa and the Middle East, and they are ideally suited to the requirements of resource-poor states.

Analysis


Barrel bombs are improvised devices that contain explosive filling and shrapnel packed into a container, often in a cylindrical shape such as a barrel. The devices continue to be dropped on towns all over Syria. Indeed, there have been several documented cases of their use in Iraq over the past months, and residents of the city of Mosul, which was recently …

Russia Looks East for New Oil Markets

Click to Enlarge


In the final years of the Soviet Union, Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev began orienting his foreign policy toward Asia in response to a rising Japan. Putin has also piloted a much-touted pivot to Asia, coinciding with renewed U.S. interest in the area. A good expression of intent was Russia's hosting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in 2012 in Vladivostok, near Russia's borders with China and North Korea. Although its efforts in Asia have been limited by more direct interests in Russia's periphery and in Europe, Moscow recently has been able to look more to the east.

Part of this renewed interest involves finding new export markets for Russian hydrocarbons. Russia's economy relies on energy exports, particularly crude oil and natural gas exported via pipeline to the West. However, Western Europe is diversifying its energy sources as new supplies come online out of a desire to reduce its dependence on Russian energy supplies.

This has forced…

In Yemen, a Rebel Advance Could Topple the Regime

Shia loyal to the al-Houthi movement ride past Yemeni soldiers near Yaz, Yemen, in May. (MOHAMMED HUWAIS/AFP/Getty Images)

Summary


The success of a rebel campaign in northern Yemen is threatening to destabilize the already weak and overwhelmed government in Sanaa. After capturing the city of Amran, a mere 50 kilometers (30 miles) from the capital, in early July, the rebels from the al-Houthi tribe are in their strongest position yet. The Yemeni government is developing plans to divide the country into six federal regions, and the rebels believe this is their chance to claim territory for the future bargaining.

The central government is nearly powerless to fend off the rebels; its forces are already stretched thin. Neighboring Saudi Arabia has intervened in Yemen before and still supports Sunni tribes in the north, but the risk of inciting a Shiite backlash or creating space for jihadists to move in could deter another intervention.

Analysis


Followers of Zaidi Islam, a branch of Shiism, rul…