Given its location on the Syrian-Iraqi-Jordanian border triangle, al-Tanf military base is perceived to be strategic for the US-led coalition against the Islamic State (IS), and also a red line.
The military base has been used as a facility to train Maghawir al-Thawra (Revolutionary Commando Army), which was founded in May 2015 and trained in Jordan to fight IS, Lt. Col. Muhannad al-Talla, the commander of the faction, told Al-Monitor.
On May 18, the US-led coalition’s aircraft destroyed a pro-Syrian regime convoy advancing toward al-Tanf base, after ignoring warning shots. Commenting on the strike, US Secretary of Defense James Mattis said, “We are not increasing our role in the Syrian civil war. But we will defend our troops.”
Talla said that 150 US troops are stationed at al-Tanf base, in addition to troops of five different nationalities from within the ranks of the coalition — which he did not name at the request of these member states — including two Arab countries.
Al-Monitor spoke to Talla over the phone about the role of the US-led coalition at the base, the reasons behind the Russian troops’ control over areas close to al-Tanf, and the arrival of Iranian and Iraqi militias as reinforcements in the Syrian desert.
The text of the interview follows:
Al-Monitor: Can you introduce Maghawir al-Thawra? How many members does it consist of? Where is it deployed? Where does the support come from?
Talla: Maghawir al-Thawra — formerly known as the New Syrian Army — took seven months to see the light. It was founded on May 20, 2015, and its troops were initially trained in Jordanian territory. It consists of former fighters of the Free Syrian Army who fled the areas that IS managed to seize following fierce battles. Most of them fled Deir ez-Zor, al-Bukamal, Palmyra and the countryside of Aleppo.
Its initial formation amounted to 120 fighters. The number today has grown bigger, going beyond hundreds of fighters who were trained by military experts from friendly countries within the ranks of the US-led coalition. I founded the group and I am leading it. We are present in al-Hamad [in the Syrian desert] and al-Tanf area, which is near the Iraqi-Jordanian-Syrian border triangle.