By SETH J. FRANTZMAN
In a bizarre series of events on Sunday the Syrian regime claimed that the US hit its forces south of Sukhna “The military source said in a statement to SANA: The forces of the ‘International Alliance’ attacked several missiles at around 8:00 pm on some sites of the Syrian Arab Army in Jabal Gharab south of the city of Sukhna in the eastern Homs countryside. The military source pointed out that the damage was limited to material materials.”
Yet the Pentagon said it took out an ISIS commander.
Coalition forces conducted precision strikes against a senior ISIS member, Abu al Umarayn, and several other ISIS members on Dec. 2 in the Badiyah Desert, Syria. Al Umarayn had given indications of posing an imminent threat to Coalition Forces and he was involved in the killing of American Citizen and former U.S. Army Ranger, Peter Kassig. He has been linked to and directly involved with executing several other prisoners as a senior ISIS member. Coalition airstrikes continue to disrupt ISIS command and control on the battlefield as we remove key figures from their ranks.
-US Coalition statement
Syrian state media claimed that the US-led Coalition fired missiles at its forces in Homs governorate on Sunday night. The claim comes amid rumors on social media that the Coalition targeted Syrian forces in the desert north of the Coalition-controlled Tanaf Garrison. However, the US said that a Coalition airstrike had killed an Islamic State commander named Abu al-Umarayn in the Syrian desert. He was accused of involvement in the murder of US aid worker Peter Kassig in November 2014.
After 8pm several accounts that follow conflict in Syria claimed that the Syrian regime’s 21st mechanized brigade was struck by 14 rockets. They claimed the rockets had been fired from Tanaf, an area in Syria near where the Jordanian and Iraqi borders meet. According to these reports either the US air force or rockets fired from an M142 HIMARS battery had been used when Syrian regime forces came within 55km of the Coalition garrison in Tanaf. The garrison has been working with anti-ISIS forces for several years but the Syrian regime opposes the US presence. In the past the US has warned pro-Syrian militias from entering the area and has fired at them.
The Syrian SANA state media said that the regime’s forces were struck by “several missiles” in the area south of Sukhna, a town on the road from Palmyra to Deir ez-Zor. The media claimed limited damage had been done. It comes three days after air strikes targeted an area south of Damascus. Syria did not blame any country for the airstrikes on Thursday and sought to downplay their importance.
The US Coalition told CNN and Fox News that a US drone had targeted Al-Umarayn on Sunday. Lucas Tomlinson Fox News Pentagon correspondent reported that Al-Umarayn was involved in the murder of Kassig, a former US Army Ranger who was executed in Syria in 2014 by ISIS.
The missile strike on Sunday is being blamed on the US by Damascus and if it is confirmed it will be a rare example of the US targeting the Syrian regime. The US assertion that it targeted ISIS would also illustrate an expansion of anti-ISIS strikes into areas controlled by the regime west of the Euphrates. The US and SDF are fighting ISIS in Hajin on the Euphrates river.
In June 2017 the US targeted pro-Syrian regime groups near Tanf. In February of this year US forces in Syria engaged a large column of pro-regime fighters that had crossed the Euphrates and attacked the Syrian Democratic Forces, who are partners of the Coalition in the battle against ISIS. In April the US, UK and France launched airstrikes on Syria in response to the use of chemical weapons.
The decision to strike an ISIS commander in Homs Governorate and in the desert area shows that the US is hunting in a wider range of areas in Syria. For the regime this also means that they want to warn the US against more incursions. But they don’t have a way to prevent them. Oddly the regime claimed the attack on the ISIS commander was actually an attack on its forces. Why they made this claim is unclear.