A military source on the Syrian regime side said today that a US airstrike against an Iranian and Damascus-backed column of Shia jihadist militants the day before hit “one of our military points”, without elaborating any further, state media outlets reported.
The airstrike late on Thursday killed several people and caused material damage, the source said, adding that this hampered efforts by the Syrian Assad regime’s army and its allies to fight Daesh militants.
The US military carried out the strike on the Shia jihadist militia as they headed towards the Al-Tanf military base in southern Syria – near the Syria-Iraq-Jordan border – used by US and US-backed rebel forces.
US officials said the strike was purely a defensive measure.
Iran’s route to the Mediterranean
A member of the US-backed Syrian rebel forces told Reuters the convoy comprised Syrian and Iranian-backed jihadists and was headed toward the Al-Tanf base when they clashed with some rebel forces.
The Shia jihadists were reportedly pushing towards Al-Tanf as their Iraqi counterparts in the Tehran-backed but Iraqi state-sanctioned Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF) were pushing to claim the Iraqi town of Al-Ba’aj near the Iraqi-Syrian border.
According to reports, Shia jihadist groups backed by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) in both Iraq and Syria were attempting to coordinate efforts to capture Al-Ba’aj and Al-Qaim in Iraq, and also Mayadin and Deir Azzour in Syria.
The Guardian said earlier this week that these cities are being targeted specifically by Iran in order to secure a route the stretches from Tehran to Latakia on the Syrian Mediterranean coast, with Iraq acting as a transit hub.
The US airstrike against the lead elements of the Shia jihadist column heading towards Al-Tanf may therefore also be an attempt to disrupt Iranian expansionism and to contain its regional ambitions.
Syria’s ally Russia said earlier today that the strike had hit civilians and was unacceptable, Russian news agencies reported.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov, who the agencies said was speaking in Geneva, said the US strike had violated Syria’s sovereignty and would not help efforts to find a political solution to the conflict.
The US-backed forces in that area are fighting against Daesh militants. Separately, Syria’s military supported by Russia and Iranian-backed militias are fighting against the militant group only sporadically, preferring to instead focus their efforts against pro-democracy rebel factions across the country.