US legal, field challenges in Syria’s Al-Tanf border area

Alwaght– The Al-Tanf border crossing on Syria’s southern border with Iraq these days is a point of focus of the global attention. Held by the British and American forces along with allied militants, the border path is of significance for the actors on the ground.

The Syrian forces along with their allies from the Resistance Axis that includes Iran, Lebanon, and Iraq, have recently been pushing forward to retake the border crossing that lies on a major highway that links the Iraqi capital of Baghdad to Damascus, the Syrian capital.

The US and Britain deployed forces and heavy military equipment to the border area when in March 2016 fighters from the US-backed Syrian militant groups seized control of the area from the ISIS. The terrorist group had captured the crossing in May 2015.

The stated US aim behind military deployment to the border region has been supporting the the anti-Damascus militants in the face of ISIS fighters. But the analysts have a different argument, asserting that without any doubt Washington seeks setting up a buffer zone between the Syrian and Iraqi territories, a measure that will bar the two countries’ armies from joining forces and stepping up campaign against terrorism in a swathe of cross-border territory.

The Americans face two battlefield and legal challenges in their struggle to keep their grip on the strategic border crossing. First challenge is that according to the international law, the US and Britain are present in the area without permission or call from the central Syrian government, something questions legitimacy of their presence there, aside from their already-questioned bombing campaign in Syria that comes without behest of Damascus.

Beside violation of the international laws, Washington and London had to breach their laws at home to keep controlling the border path. On May 18, the US fighter jets carried out strikes on the pro-Damascus Resistance forces advancing towards the border crossing, drawing criticism from some American lawmakers. Following the attack, Ted Lieu, the Democrat of House of Representatives representing California, voiced dissent by saying that “Trump does not have the Congressional authorization to attack Syria, a country that has not attacked the US.”

But the historic record of the American presidents’ actions shows that they are not afraid to tread on the international and domestic laws. However, if the condemnation of such attacks turns into an international and internal question haunting the US administration, President Trump might recognize such outcries as a serious challenge ahead of his further military actions against the legitimate Syrian government.

There are also challenges facing Washington’s control of the border path in terms of logistic hardship. Al-Tanf area is well in the heart of a desert, making it severely difficult for the US to provide its forces and the allied militants operating there with logistics. On the other hand, Washington is far from being able to fully trust the Syrian militants present in the area since they, like other fellow fighters, carry a Salafi ideology, making it unavoidable for them to have links to the terrorist groups operating elsewhere.

Still, the mightiest challenge is posed by the Resistance camp’s forces that are intent on pressing forward to retake the border crossing. In past few days, they managed to considerably move forward from the Syrian and Iraqi sides of the border. The progresses are coming in defiance of the US warnings that culminated in May 18 airstrike against them. Washington reiterated determination to conduct further air raids if the pro-Damascus forces keep progressing towards the area.

Despite technological and military superiority of the US forces, many American analysts agree that Washington cannot simply target the Iraqi and Syrian forces heading to the border crossing without sustaining any consequences. Americans’ fear of retaliatory actions by the both sides are clearly observable in many media reports and experts’ analyses.

Pointing to the growing US military presence in Iraq, the Foreign Policy analysis website has maintained that as the “American troops on the ground, and advisors moving around with small local units, there remains the danger of Iranian retaliation. During the U.S. occupation of Iraq, Tehran provided Shiite militias with deadly roadside bombs and rockets that claimed hundreds of American lives.”

All these conditions make the American politicians complain about the White House decline to unveil a certain strategy on the Syria-Iraq borders. The former US ambassador to Damascus Robert Ford, who is a leading upholder of offering support to the anti-Syrian militants and has a key role in orchestrating American policy in relation to Syria, has recently told the Foreign Policy that “it’s not clear to me yet if the administration has a detailed strategy [on] how to manage its presence and its allies’ presence in eastern Syria.”