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6 Jun, 2016 10:08

UK special forces fighting alongside Syrian rebels on Jordanian border – report

UK special forces fighting alongside Syrian rebels on Jordanian border – report

British special forces are fighting on the Syrian frontline, protecting an embattled rebel unit against ISIS attacks in the first direct military operation that is not merely training squads of fighters in neighboring Jordan.

The New Syrian Army (NSA), comprised largely of defectors from the Syrian special forces, has been picked up for retraining by the Americans and the British. It now finds itself holed up in the al-Tanf village, in the southeast.

The British forces, who frequently cross over from Jordan, are currently there with the NSA, according to military commanders who spoke with The Times.

Special forces have much more leeway than regular forces, as their deployment does not require approval by the British parliament.

Al-Tanf carries immense strategic importance to anyone who holds it, as it pretty much straddles the border with Jordan and Iraq. IS took it almost exactly a year ago, before the village was reclaimed by NSA fighters in Marforcesch this year. However, bloody violence is ongoing. Last month an armored IS vehicle rammed the rebel base there, killing 11 rebels and injuring a further 17. The wounded were taken care of by the Americans, who flew them to Jordan.

“They’re using missiles, mortars and many suicide bombers,” First Lieutenant Mahmoud al-Saleh told the newspaper, adding that attacks are being mounted at any given time of the night, without much opportunity for sleep.

Britain’s Ministry of Defense did not return The Times’ request for comment on the direct involvement of its special forces in either Syria or Lybia, where the Brits reportedly destroyed two IS suicide vehicles last week.

Earlier there was concern among some circles that Western boots on the ground in Syria would not be a good thing. After Prime Minister David Cameron’s failure to garner enough support to drop bombs on the forces of President Bashar Assad two years ago, UK special forces, along with the Americans, have been deployed to assist to rebel groups fighting IS. Of course an unknown number of these rebel groups is also fighting Assad forces.

Meanwhile, other so-called ‘moderate rebels’ to the north –  fighting both IS and Assad forces – have been accused by Damascus in a letter to the UN. The Syrian government alleges that the 2,000 or so ‘moderates’ have been shelling Aleppo and, as of June 6, are carrying out an assault on a Kurdish district.

In the letter, which was addressed to the UN Secretary General and the Head of the UN Security Council, the Syrian Foreign and Expatriates Ministry complained about ongoing attacks on safe neighborhoods in the city. Accusing regional Sunni states of providing support to the various rebel groups, the Syrian Foreign and Expatriates Ministry also complained of the groups’ collusion with al-Nusra Front terrorist. The name has been synonymous with Syria-based terrorism since before IS.

As for the NSA, its roots start two years ago as a result of the half-billion-dollar program of training the Syrian opposition to fight IS. It would first be known as the New Syrian Forces (NSF), but the idea never took off: one of its units was kidnapped by the Nusra Front, and that was that for the NSF. A second batch was then trained, but defected to the terrorist side. Only five NSF members in Syrian remained.

That was when Washington had apparently realized that repurposing and equipping existing Syrian rebels was the way to go. Last November, the now-NSA allegedly conducted its first operations against IS.

RT quizzed the State Department a month before in October about the failure of its ‘moderate’ rebel-training program, especially now that US weapons were ending up in the hands of IS terrorists.

“Sometimes you run into obstacles and challenges you didn’t know you were going to have or you couldn’t have predicted,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said. “I would also remind you that this particular aspect of the program is not being shelved forever.”

A few months ago Defense Secretary Ashton Carter testified before of Congress, stating that it is difficult to identify rebels with the right mentality, who would not then turn over their weapons and themselves to Islamic State.

The State Department now says it will provide equipment to those rebels in whom the US has a “measure of confidence.” But it cannot say how the US will measure that confidence.