US 'has 20 military bases in Syria', claims Russian official

US 'has 20 military bases in Syria', claims Russian official
The Pentagon has previously said it would maintain an 'open-ended' military presence in Syria to counter Iran and Islamic State group threats.
2 min read
01 March, 2018
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has said US will maintain 'open-ended' Syria presence [Getty]
The US has established 20 military bases in Syria, an official from Russia's Security Council said on Thursday, according to a Reuters report, quoting the state-run RIA news agency.
The United States has for some time been expanding its military presence in Syria. In January, Defense News reported that the US was transforming its troop presence in Al Tabaqah near Raqqa and Al-Tanf into military bases.

The US presence in Al-Tanf, along with Deir az-Zour, has already reportedly "sandwiched" the area, blocking Iran from Mediterranean access.

But Pentagon officials were quick to distance the US from the Russian claims - though did not issue a specific denial.

"These statements are Russian attempts to distract the public from the fact that they have been unable to enforce the UN-negotiated ceasefire," Eric Pahon, a Department of Defense spokesman, told The New Arab in an emailed statement. 

Citing operational security concerns, Pahlon said the defence department does not "divulge the specific number and disposition of our troops in Syria".

Earlier this year, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the US was planning for an open-ended military presence in Syria. Besides countering threats from the Islamic State group and al-Qaeda, Washington also hopes to counter Iran's growing influence in Syria and the wider region.

Tillerson added that the US was seeking to avoid "the same mistakes" that were made when US forces left Iraq in 2011.

As for Russia, Moscow has an air base in Hmeimim and a naval base in Tartous. The two bases are part of an agreement between Moscow and Damascus - President Vladimir Putin penned an agreement with Syria to operate the air base for five decades, according to 2017 reports.

Russia has been the Syrian regime's main backer during the country's seven-year civil war that has left hundreds of thousands dead and millions displaced, mostly at the regime's hands.

In addition to the US and Russia, Iran has also established military bases in Syria. According to satellite imagery earlier this week, a second permanent military base outside Damascus was opened.

The US presence in Syria came under renewed focus last month following news that fellow NATO member Turkey planned to expand its Afrin offensive into nearby Manbij, where US forces are stationed. 

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