Nobody saw it coming and the Syrian advance to the east of US positions at al-Tanf base, effectively neutralized it.
The Russian-backed Syrians strategy was to neutralize the US and their proxies at al-Tanf by giving their base a 55 kilometer-wide berth and punch through to the Iraqi border further east. This maneuver would end US dreams of al-Tanf as a staging point for a push into the Euphrates valley and turned their positions into an irrelevant, isolated outpost in the desert.
The shocking part was how quickly it was done and without warning. The Syrian forces covered 184 kilometers across barren desert in a single day without a hint of their intensions.
It was so unexpected and with such speed that news of it only emerged when it was over. They were already shaking hands with Iraqis on their joint borders when the Americans realized that they had been cut off.
A diversion of a much smaller force tested the US-proclaimed 55 kilometer exclusion zone further east suckered the Americans and made the breakthrough possible.
The US Defense Secretary Mattis explained: “As far as the Tanf situation, that was another operating area that we had. I did not anticipate that the Russians would move there. We knew it was a possibility. I did not anticipate it at that time but it was not a surprise to our intelligence people who saw the potential for them to move out in that direction.”
Hence, the Pentagon saw "the potential" for a Syrian move in that direction, but was completely surprised by how suddenly it developed.
Meanwhile, the ongoing siege by Syrian Kurdish militia, supported by airstrikes of the US-led coalition, on terrorist stronghold Raqqa has been marred by at least 300 civilian fatalities and the displacement of some 160,000 people, a UN commission says.
The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a group of militias dominated by ethnic Kurds, launched their offensive on Raqqa last week amid weapons and military hardware supplies from the US.
The Chairman of the UN Commission of Inquiry into the Syrian conflict said that their efforts are taking a serious toll on civilian residents of the city controlled by Daesh.
Paulo Sergio Pinheiro told the UN Human Rights Council that: “We note in particular that the intensification of airstrikes, which have paved the ground for an SDF advance in Raqqa, has resulted not only in staggering loss of civilian life, but has also led to 160,000 civilians fleeing their homes and becoming internally displaced.”
He did not give an estimate for civilian casualties in the city, but Karen Koning AbuZayd, one of the panels’ commissioners said it has documented about 300 civilian deaths from the airstrikes supporting the Raqqa offensive.
“We have documented the deaths caused by the coalition airstrikes only and we have about 300 deaths, 200 in one place, in al-Mansoura, one village,” she said.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) expressed its concern over the toll the Raqqa offensive operation is taking on civilians. It criticized the US troops for allegedly using white phosphorous munitions as part of the offensive, saying that the chemical may cause serious injuries and trigger fires when used in residential areas.
Meanwhile, Vanessa Beeley, associate editor at 21stcenturywire.com, said that the US coalition is carpet bombing Raqqa without any UN mandate, raising the question whether there is something they want to hide or destroy before it is discovered by the Syrian Army,.
She said: “What is extraordinary is the hypocrisy that we are seeing right now from the US coalition. We are well aware that they have used chemical weapons inside Syria, they used depleted uranium. We have reports coming in of them using white phosphorous. One wonders why the red lines that they imposed upon target nations do not apply to the US or to the US coalition.”
She added: “We’ve seen clear collusion between the US proxies. The SDF forces have effectively given Daesh a back door out of Raqqa when they’ve been under threat. We also know that the US coalition on many occasions have supported Daesh through its air campaign. We also know that many of the civilians from Raqqa have already been driven out of Raqqa by Daesh through scaremongering campaigns to cleanse the area and replace the civilians there with the Kurdish forces, and the SDF.”