BEIRUT ― A military bases race is underway between Russia and the U.S. as each nation seeks to expand its presence in Syria and counter asymmetric threats.
The U.S. has a military presence in several key locations, but there are two areas with heavy U.S. troop presence that are being transformed to military bases, according to a military source: The first is located in Al Tabaqah near Al Raqqa north Syria, where the U.S. special forces troops are training Kurdish groups; the other is constructed in Al-Tanf where the U.S. troops prevent Syrian and Russian armed forces from crossing.
Al Tabaqah was a Syrian military air base before revolts ended the hold. U.S. also has special operations forces along the Jordan- Iraq- Syria borders in Al Tanf, a crossing where Syrian revolt groups are trained. The U.S. military presence in Deir Ezzour and in Al Tanf have “sandwiched” this area, impairing Iran’s efforts to build the bridge connecting Iran with the Mediterranean.
By comparison, Russia has two permanent military bases in Syria – an air base in Hmeimim and a naval base in Tartous.
“Russian officials want an immediate exit from Syria because they are aware that if the region’s dynamics are altered, Russia will encounter guerrilla warfare against its presence in Syria,” said Elias Hanna, a retired general of the Lebanese Army, pointing to an attack on Hmeimim by drones from a distance of 50-100 km away Jan. 6.
“It is impossible for an ISIS member to design a drone [able to] travel 50-100 km,” he added. “It needs the capabilities to connect to satellites and GPS” – which is a grave concern to Russia.
After the attack, Russia’s Defense Ministry insinuated the U.S. was involved, saying that the data for the attacks could only have been obtained “from one of the countries that possesses know-how in satellite navigation,” and calling it a “strange coincidence” that a U.S. military intelligence plane was flying over the Mediterranean near the two Russian bases at the moment of the attack. The Pentagon strongly denied any involvement.