With the U.S. now unable to prevent Syrian government control of the Syria-Jordan border, Friday’s strikes are a sign that the U.S. effort to oust the Syrian government from Abu Kamal is likely to only grow stronger as its occupation of Syrian territory faces an uncertain future.
ABU KAMAL, SYRIA – Around midnight on Friday, U.S.-led coalition warplanes in Syria conducted intensive airstrikes near Abu Kamal in the Deir ez-Zor province, with estimates of civilian casualties ranging from 30 to 54. Syrian state media agency SANA has claimed that at least 30 were killed and that most of the dead were women and children. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), often cited by international and particularly Western media, has asserted that 54 were killed.
According to local reports, the U.S.-led coalition strikes targeted the towns of al-Souseh and al-Baghouz Fowqani, east of the Euphrates river in the countryside around Abu Kamal. The bombings resulted in dozens of houses in the towns collapsing, resulting in numerous civilian deaths, as whole families were crushed by the rubble while they were sleeping.
The U.S. coalition did not confirm or deny its role in the strike, stating only that it “may have” been responsible. However, the bombing comes after the coalition announced in early May it would intensify airstrikes targeting Daesh (ISIS), particularly in Eastern Syria along the Syria-Iraq border. Abu Kamal, where last night’s strikes took place, is a strategic border town on the Syria-Iraq border and is the only Syria-Iraq border crossing currently controlled by Syrian government forces.
Western media reports have claimed that Daesh militants were among the dead, but survivors of the attack contest this claim, instead suggesting that they had been targeted for their unwillingness to cooperate with local U.S.-backed militias. Locals told SANA that U.S. claims that the strikes were intended to target Daesh were false and instead suggested that two towns had been targeted for refusing the entry of the U.S.-backed opposition militias, particularly the Qasad militia.
Reports in Arabic media from earlier this year (English translation) have claimed to provide evidence that many former Daesh members have joined the Qasad militia, both in the province of Deir Ez-Zor and al-Hasakah. Such reports are consistent with U.S. support for other militia groups, such as the Deir Ez-Zor Military Council (DMC), that also include significant numbers of former Daesh fighters who had surrendered to the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the proxy force of the coalition, over the course of the past year.
Losing influence elsewhere in Syria, the U.S. sets sights on Abu Kamal
The strike comes at a delicate time for the U.S. coalition in Syria, as its most important alliances, which enable its occupation of more than 30 percent of Syrian territory, threaten to dissolve while local resistance to the presence of foreign troops continues to grow.
MintPress has recently reported on these developments — regarding first the rise of local resistance to the U.S. presence from Arab and Kurdish tribes in U.S.-occupied Syria, and then the agreement between the Syrian government and factions of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG, the backbone of the U.S. proxy force, the SDF) behind the back of the U.S. coalition. Both developments threaten to make the U.S. occupation of Syrian territory not only ultimately unsustainable but indeed short-lived.
The U.S. has also lost influence elsewhere in Syria, particularly in Syria’s south owing to the Syrian government’s recent, highly successful campaign in the area. The offensive has seen the Syrian government reclaim nearly all of the Syrian-Jordan border and is likely to result in the U.S. abandoning its long-standing presence in al-Tanf, the strategic area where the borders of Syria, Jordan and Iraq meet.
The U.S. has maintained a military base at al-Tanf, where it has trained proxy fighters for the past several years, and has occupied a 34-mile zone surrounding that facility. Losing that location is a blow to U.S. influence in Syria and would mean a consolidation of U.S. occupation forces in the Eastern portion of Syria nominally controlled by the SDF.
For that reason, the recent strikes on Abu Kamal are notable, as they build on other recent coalition strikes in the area. Indeed, there is no Daesh presence in Abu Kamal aside from the pockets of Daesh that intermittently attack the Syrian government-held city from the area of Syria occupied by the U.S.
In addition, recent coalition bombings in and around Abu Kamal have shown that these strikes have nothing to do with wiping out Daesh. For instance, another recent coalition strike in the Abu Kamal area, which took place last month, did not target Daesh at all but instead Syrian government forces and allied Iraqi militias. Though the U.S. never publicly admitted responsibility for the attack and an anonymous U.S. official had blamed the strike on Israel, forensic evidence analyzed and collected by Iraqi forces showed that the U.S. was indeed responsible.
The U.S. interest in Abu Kamal is aimed at wresting the strategic outpost from the control of the Syrian government, which would result in the Syrian government losing its only road access to both Iraq and Iran. Cutting off this supply line, particularly the connection between Syria and Iran, has long been acknowledged as an important U.S. goal in its occupation of Northeastern Syria.
With the U.S. now unable to prevent Syrian government control of the Syria-Jordan border, Friday’s strikes are a sign that the U.S. effort to oust the Syrian government from Abu Kamal is likely to only grow stronger as its occupation of Syrian territory faces an uncertain future. If the high death tolls from the recent strike are any indication, the U.S. seems to have few qualms about killing scores of civilians in pursuit of its geopolitical goals in Syria.