Flashpoint / Global 13 October 2021 Al-Tanf, Syria Share Facebook Twitter Email Print Back To Map I. Why it Matters Located in Syria on the Iraqi border and within miles of the Jordanian border, the U.S. garrison at al-Tanf has, since 2016, served as a launching point for counter-ISIS operations and training for Syrian opposition factions fighting the jihadist group. Iranian and Iran-backed forces are deployed in close proximity to the al-Tanf desert outpost, which sits on the strategically significant Baghdad-Damascus highway. U.S. forces in al-Tanf established a 55-km de-confliction zone, beyond which lie an array of forces described as either “pro-regime” or “Iran-backed” that have set up checkpoints in the area. Several incidents in recent months underscore al-Tanf’s potential as a flashpoint between U.S. and Iranian and/or Iran-backed forces. II. Recent Developments 13 October 2021 Secretary of State Antony Blinken remarked that “keeping violence down; increasing humanitarian assistance and focusing our military efforts on any terrorist groups that pose a threat to us or to our partners, with the intent and capacity to do that… are going to be the critical areas of focus for us, and they’re also, I think, important to advancing a broader political settlement to the Syrian conflict consistent with UN Security Council Resolution 2254”. He further noted that “what we have not done and what we do not intend to do is to express any support for efforts to normalise relations or rehabilitate Mr. Assad, or lifted a single sanction on Syria or changed our position to oppose the reconstruction of Syria until there is irreversible progress toward a political solution”. View More 9 October 2021 Iranian Foreign Minister Amirabdollahian visited Damascus and met with President Bashar al-Assad and other senior Syrian officials. During his trip, Amirabdollahian asserted that “our ties with Syria are strategic and we are trying to expand our cooperation with the country in all fields. Syria is on the path of development and progress, and on this path, Iran will strongly stand by Damascus, as it did during the war on terrorists”. View More 21 September 2021 A spokesperson for the U.S.-led counter-ISIS coalition indicated that “the coalition continues to foster our partnership with Maghawir a-Thawra as working and training together [to] present a strong and unified front that is capable of deterring a Daesh resurgence and any potential threat in and around al-Tanf Garrison”. View More 29 August 2021 Iranian Foreign Minister Amirabdollahian visited Syria and met with senior officials including President Bashar al-Assad. According to a Syrian readout, the two conferred on, inter alia, “steps… to enhance bilateral cooperation with the aim of reaching a higher level of partnerships at various levels, particularly in the economic and trade fields, in a way that enables the two peoples to continue facing the repercussions of the blockade and sanctions imposed on the two countries”. View More 21 August 2021 The U.S.-led counter-ISIS coalition reported that “Coalition aircraft successfully engaged and defeated a UAS through air to air engagement” in eastern Syria; unnamed officials were cited as saying that the drone was Iranian. View More 9 August 2021 The U.S. announced that it had “applied the measures authorised in Section 3 of the Iran, North Korea and Syria Nonproliferation Act” against, inter alia, Kataeb Hizbollah, Asaeb Ahl al-Haq and Lebanese Hizbollah. View More 28 July 2021 The U.S. designated “eight Syrian prisons run by the Assad regime’s intelligence apparatus… and five senior security officials of regime entities that control these detention facilities”. It also blacklisted “Syrian armed group Ahrar al-Sharqiya… [and] two of the group’s leaders”. View More 28 June 2021 The U.S. along with eighteen countries, the League of Arab States and the European Union jointly reiterated “strong support for UN-led efforts to implement all aspects of UN Security Council Resolution 2254, including continued support for an immediate nation-wide ceasefire, the unimpeded and safe delivery of aid, and the Constitutional Committee, as well as fighting against terrorism in all its forms and manifestations”. Emphasising “the unity and territorial integrity of Syria”, they expressed commitments “to continue working actively to reach a credible, sustainable and inclusive political solution based on Resolution 2254”. View More 28 June 2021 The foreign ministers of the Global Coalition to Defeat Daesh/ISIS issued a joint statement expressing their commitment “to strengthening cooperation across all Coalition lines of effort in order to ensure that Daesh/ISIS Core in Iraq and Syria”. On Iraq, they deplored “the continuing attacks against Coalition personnel and convoys, and diplomatic facilities, emphasising the importance of the Government of Iraq protecting Coalition assets”, while hailing “the incremental expansion of NATO’s non-combat advisory, training and capacity building mission”. Regarding Syria, the ministers backed “a lasting political settlement in accordance with UN Security Council Resolution 2254”, while noting that “the Coalition continues to support inclusive local recovery and stabilisation in areas liberated from Daesh/ISIS and reconciliation and reintegration efforts to foster conditions conducive to a Syria-wide political resolution to the conflict under the parameters of UN Security Council Resolution 2254”. View More 15 June 2021 A spokesperson for the U.S.-led counter-ISIS coalition maintained that “continued collaboration with the Maghawir a-Thawra is essential to enable security and prevent a Daesh [ie, ISIS] resurgence in and around al-Tanf Garrison. The coalition enables its partners to ensure the enduring defeat of ISIS in designated areas of Iraq and Syria to increase regional stability”. View More 26 May 2021 Addressing the UN Security Council, Iran’s envoy called for preserving “the unity, territorial integrity and sovereignty of Syria through ending the occupation of its territory including the occupied Syrian Golan, withdrawing of all uninvited foreign forces from that country, ceasing to support any separatist tendencies or illegitimate self-rule initiatives and preventing the violation of Syrian sovereignty particularly by acts of aggression of the Israeli regime”. View More 25 May 2021 A Pentagon spokesperson underscored that “nothing’s changed about the [U.S.’s] mission in Syria, which is about counter-ISIS operations, in keeping with the work that the coalition has been doing since 2014. It is certainly a small presence, less than 1,000”. He also indicated that “we as a government would simply urge all actors act in such a way inside Syria so as to not contribute more to the instability, the insecurity and rather in fact contribute to a peaceful political outcome”. View More 16 May 2021 During a visit to north east Syria, a senior U.S. diplomat affirmed “the U.S. commitment to cooperation and coordination in the Coalition to Defeat ISIS, continued stability in north east Syria and the delivery of stabilisation assistance to liberated areas to ensure the enduring defeat of ISIS”. He further expressed “commitment to support all efforts toward a political resolution of the Syrian conflict” and emphasised that “the U.S. will continue to be a leader in the Syrian humanitarian response while working with like-minded countries to ensure the reauthorisation of cross-border assistance into Syria”. View More 13 April 2021 The U.S. Intelligence Community’s 2021 Annual Threat Assessment indicated that “Iran is determined to maintain influence in Syria… [It] is pursuing a permanent military presence and economic deals in Syria as the conflict winds down there. Tehran almost certainly wants these things to build its regional influence, support Hizbollah and threaten Israel”. The report further assessed that “U.S. forces in eastern Syria will face threats from Iranian and Syrian-regime-aligned groups, mostly through deniable attacks”. View More 30 March 2021 The foreign ministers of the Global Coalition to Defeat Daesh/ISIS Small Group issued a communique reiterating “shared determination to continue the fight against Daesh/ISIS in Iraq and Syria, and to create conditions for an enduring defeat of the terrorist group”. The ministers expressed “unwavering commitment to continue close cooperation with and support to the Government of Iraq” and asserted that “attacks against Coalition forces and Iraqi partners, such as those that occurred in Erbil, Baghdad and al-Asad, are unacceptable and compromise our collective efforts at the expense of the people of Iraq”. The statement went on to say that “the Coalition stands with the Syrian people in support of a lasting political settlement in accordance with UN Security Council Resolution 2254. The Coalition must continue to be vigilant against the threat of terrorism, in all its forms and manifestations… to avoid security vacuums that Daesh/ISIS may exploit”. View More 30 March 2021 The U.S. unveiled “more than $596 million in new humanitarian assistance to respond to the Syrian crisis”, with the U.S. UN ambassador underscoring the importance of “unhindered humanitarian access and aid to all Syrians in need through all avenues available, including through cross-border assistance”. View More 23 March 2021 Marking the second anniversary of ISIS’s territorial defeat, the U.S. State Department asserted that “our mission is far from complete. The Global Coalition remains united in its determination to see this enemy destroyed and will continue its efforts against the group in Iraq, Syria, and other countries”. View More 15 March 2021 Marking the tenth anniversary of the Syrian war, the U.S., jointly with the E3 and Italy, issued a statement urging “the regime and its supporters [to] engage seriously in the political process” and reaffirming “the pursuit of a peaceful solution which protects the rights and future of all Syrians, based on UN Security Council Resolution 2254”. Relatedly, Iran UN envoy urged “the immediate withdrawal of all foreign forces present in Syria without the permission of its Government, particularly U.S. forces”, adding: “We condemn the continued Israeli military attacks in Syria. They are unlawful, provocative, and destabilising. That regime must be compelled to put an end to such military adventurism”. View More 11 March 2021 A U.S. diplomatic spokesperson reiterated that “we’ll use a variety of tools at our disposal to push for a sustainable end to the Syrian people’s suffering. We’ll continue to support the UN’s role in negotiating a political settlement in line with the relevant UN resolutions, including UNSCR 2254”. “If there is to be a sustainable end to this conflict, we recognise that the Syrian Government must change its behaviour”, the spokesperson asserted, adding: “Bashar al-Assad has not done anything that would restore his legitimacy… There is no question of the U.S. normalising relations with his government anytime soon. There is no question that we will stand, that we will seek to support the humanitarian plight of the Syrian people as we seek a political settlement”. View More 25 February 2021 Foreign minister Javad Zarif conferred with his Syrian counterpart on bilateral relations and the Syrian peace process. View More 17 February 2021 Iran, Russia and Turkey convened a meeting of the “Astana Process” talks over Syria, jointly reaffirming “determination to combat terrorism in all forms and manifestations and stand against separatist agendas aimed at undermining the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Syria as well as threatening the national security of neighbouring countries”. The three countries also “condemned continuing Israeli military attacks in Syria” and “reaffirmed their commitment to advance viable and lasting Syrian-led and Syrian-owned, UN-facilitated political process in line with the UN Security Council Resolution 2254”. Relatedly, a senior Iranian diplomat met with the UN special envoy for Syria. View More 14 February 2021 A senior Iranian diplomat asserted that Iran’s “presence in Syria is aimed at combating Daesh [ie, ISIS] and other terrorist groups, but if Israel wants to cross the ‘red lines’, it will face the toughest response, which will make it regret its actions”. “Iran’s presence in Syria will continue as long as the country’s government and people ask for it… those who have illegally come to Syria and occupied its territories are those who should leave the country”, he contended. View More 10 February 2021 A senior Iranian diplomat visited Damascus and met with President Bashar al-Assad as well as the Syrian foreign minister. The Iranian official discussed with Assad “Iran’s viewpoints and stances regarding the Astana Process and the fifth meeting of Syria’s Constitutional Committee in Geneva”. View More 2 February 2021 A U.S. diplomatic spokesperson remarked that “we will renew U.S. efforts to promote a political settlement to end Syria’s civil war in close consultations with our allies, our partners and the UN. A political settlement must address the underlying causes that led to nearly a decade of civil war”. He further stated that “we will use the tools at our disposal, including economic pressure, to push for meaningful reform and accountability, and we’ll continue to support the UN’s role in negotiating a political settlement in line with UNSCR 2254. We will also restore U.S. leadership in providing humanitarian aid”. View More 22 December 2020 The U.S. Treasury Department designated “two individuals, nine business entities and the Central Bank of Syria… pursuant to Syria sanctions authorities”. In parallel, the State Department sanctioned six Syrians, including President Bashar al-Assad’s wife and the commander of Syria’s military intelligence. View More 19 December 2020 Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, asked “why do you send Afghans to the Syrian war”, maintained that “we do not send anyone to Syria… nobody goes to war on behalf of a foreign country to a third country. Our brothers would go to [Syria] voluntarily”. Zarif further noted that the majority of Afghan soldiers “have rejoined normal life… as now the war is over in Syria”, estimating fewer than 2,000 remained in Syria. “As they went to Syria to join the anti-Daesh forces”, he added, “we, without any hesitation, supported all resistance forces against terrorism and extremism”, confirming: “We support the families of those who get martyred”. View More 17 December 2020 Iran’s UN envoy told the Security Council that “Iran is fully committed to contributing to a political solution of the Syrian crisis” and asserted: “Sovereignty, political independence, unity and territorial integrity of Syria must be fully respected by all, separatist agendas and illegitimate self-rule initiatives must be rejected and all foreign forces whose presence is not permitted by the Syrian Government, particularly the U.S. forces who are following a hidden agenda, must leave Syria”. He further denounced “Israel’s continued aggression against Syria”, adding that “such provocative military adventurism must stop”. View More 10 December 2020 Israel’s military chief of staff reported that “the Iranian entrenchment in Syria is in a clear slowdown as a result of IDF activity, but we still have a long way to go to complete our goals in this arena”. He also indicated that Israel had “struck over 500 targets this year, on all fronts, in addition to multiple clandestine missions”, further noting “many offensive [cyber] operations”. View More 8 December 2020 The U.S. designated Hassan Irloo, whom it described as “an official in Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Quds Force (IRGC-QF) and the Iranian regime’s envoy to the Huthi rebels in Yemen” on counterterrorism authorities. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo argued that “by dispatching Irloo to Yemen, the IRGC-QF is signaling its intent to increase support to the Huthis and further complicate international efforts to reach a negotiated settlement to the conflict”. The U.S. also sanctioned “Al-Mustafa International University for facilitating IRGC-QF recruitment efforts and one individual”. According to the Treasury Department, the university “is used as a recruitment platform by the IRGC-QF for intelligence collection and operations, including recruitment for the IRGC-QF-led foreign militias fighting on behalf of Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria”. The following day, Iran blacklisted the U.S. ambassador to Yemen for having “a leading role in organising, financing and arming, directing and carrying out actions of aggressor coalition and formation of human tragedy in Yemen”. View More 7 December 2020 Syrian Foreign Minister Feisal Meqdad visited Tehran and met with Foreign Minister Javad Zarif and other senior officials. Discussing the trip, Iran’s diplomatic spokesperson maintained that “political solutions are the only possible option to end the current crisis” in Syria and affirmed that “Iran stands beside the Syrian people and the government in the fight against terrorism”. The following day, President Rouhani called Syrian a “strategic ally” and asserted that Israel “must be confronted until the liberation of the occupied territories, including Golan Heights”. Iran’s Defence Minister, Amir Hatami, also voiced “the determination of Iran to continue cooperation with Syria in the reconstruction phase of this country”. View More 9 November 2020 Secretary Pompeo announced that “the Department of State and the Department of the Treasury sanctioned nineteen individuals and entities under the Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act of 2019 and other sanctions authorities”. “The Assad regime has a choice: take irreversible steps toward a peaceful resolution of this decade-long conflict or face further crippling sanctions”, Pompeo asserted. View More 23 October 2020 The spokesperson for the counter-ISIS coalition underscored that “a key part of the mission to defeat Daesh falls on the coalition members and our partners in the Al-Tanf Garrison. Protection of this terrain keeps Daesh and other outlaw groups from using this region”. “CJTF-OIR is committed to maintaining the security in and around Al-Tanf Garrison”, the spokesperson asserted. View More 20 October 2020 The U.S. ambassador to the UN told the Security Council that “the Assad regime continues to give Iran and its military proxies safe harbour to extend their terror campaign and project its military power deeper into the Middle East, threatening the lives of the Syrian people, but also the security of Israel”. She further asserted that “Iranian forces must withdraw from Syria for there to be lasting peace. Only the UN-facilitated political solution outlined in Resolution 2254 will pave the way for Syria at peace with its people and the region”. View More 8 October 2020 President Bashar al-Assad maintained that “we can only have normal relations with Israel when we have our land back. It’s very simple. So, it is possible when Israel is ready and Israel is not ready. It has never been ready”. He also asserted that “we don’t have Iranian troops [in Syria]… They support Syria, they send their military experts, they work with our troops on the ground, the exist with the Syrian army”. “The Iranian issue is a pretext for occupying Syrian land and supporting terrorists”, Assad insisted. View More 30 September 2020 The U.S. unveiled “seventeen Syria sanctions designations as part of the Administration’s continuing campaign to achieve the goals of the Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act of 2019 and hold Assad and his enablers accountable for their crimes”. View More 9 September 2020 CENTCOM Commander Kenneth McKenzie confirmed that “we’re in two positions in Syria… in the Eastern Syria Security Area, we got more than 500 people that are working that area. And we’ve got a couple hundred down in the al-Tanf Garrison”. He further underscored that “we’re not doing any fighting in there. We are in there to support our SDF partners and the military objective we’re in there is to finish the final defeat of ISIS up and down the Euphrates River Valley… At the same time, we’re there to assist the SDF and holding the oil fields that are there as well to prevent ISIS from recapturing those oil fields and allow the SDF ultimately perhaps to recoup some of the benefits of those oil fields”. View More 2 September 2020 Syrian state media reported Israeli airstrikes “from the side of al-Tanf into the direction of T-4 airport” near Homs, causing material damage but no casualties. Media reports indicated that additional suspected Israeli strikes targeted sites in Deir al-Zour province, purportedly killing “sixteen Iraqi paramilitary fighters loyal to Iran”. View More 25 August 2020 On the sidelines of a Syrian Constitutional Committee meeting in Geneva, Iran, Russia and Turkey “reaffirmed their strong commitment to the sovereignty, independence, unity and territorial integrity of the Syrian Arab Republic”. They further voiced “their opposition to the illegal seizure and transfer of oil revenues that should belong to the Syrian Arab Republic”, and “condemned the continuing Israel’s [sic] military attacks in Syria”. View More 13 August 2020 The U.S. Special Representative for Syria, James Jeffrey, reiterated that “our goals [in Syria] remain as they have been for years: the enduring defeat of ISIS and al-Qaeda, an irreversible political solution to the Syrian conflict in line with UN Security Council Resolution 2254 and the removal of all Iranian-commanded forces. We are maintaining our maximum political and economic pressure for these goals… Our policy isn’t regime change; our policy is a change in behavior of whoever is governing in Damascus”. He further commented on a deal between Delta Crescent Energy, a U.S. company, and Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and maintained that “we are not involved in the commercial decisions of our local partners… The U.S. government doesn’t own, control or manage oil resources in Syria”. View More 30 July 2020 The U.S. designated fourteen Syrian individuals and entities pursuant to the Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act (Caesar Act). The same day, the U.S. special envoy for Syria, commenting on Iran’s “military cooperation agreement” with Damascus, asserted that “such military aid to the Assad regime, violates the Caesar Act… The Iranian regime’s pledge to export military equipment to Syria is in blatant defiance of the UN arms embargo under UN Security Council Resolution 2231, and it’s a further demonstration of why we in the U.S. think it’s an imperative that the Security Council must act to extend the arms embargo on Iran” beyond October. He further maintained that “the Iraqi militant groups that are sponsored by the Iranian regime, have been dealing with the Syrian regime in a way that would clearly violate… the spirit of the Caesar Act as well as UN Security Council resolutions”. View More 23 July 2020 The U.S. military stated that “a U.S. F-15 on a routine air mission in the vicinity of CJTF-OIR Al-Tanf garrison in Syria conducted a standard visual inspection of a Mahan Air passenger airliner at a safe distance of approximately 1,000m... The visual inspection occurred to ensure the safety of coalition personnel at Al-Tanf garrison”. “Once the F-15 pilot identified the aircraft as a Mahan Air passenger plan, the F-15 safely opened distance from the aircraft”, a CENTCOM spokesperson said, adding: “the professional intercept was conducted in accordance with international standards”. Iran’s diplomatic spokesperson indicated that Tehran “leaves no hostile action against the Iranian nation unanswered and will give a firm and appropriate response to any unwise measure when the time is ripe”. He further argued that “the presence of U.S. troops in Syria is illegal, and so is the mission of its fighter jets”, adding: “no safe distance was being observed”. The pilot of the airliner reportedly “change[d] altitude quickly to avoid collision”, causing “minor injuries” to some passengers. On 7 August, Iran indicated it would “pursue the issue through relevant international bodies”, and called on the UN “to reject such an unlawful and yet adventuristic act”. View More 8 July 2020 Iran’s military chief of staff, Mohammad Baqeri, met with the Syrian Minister of Defence in Damascus and inked “a comprehensive military cooperation agreement”. Baqeri reportedly expressed Tehran’s commitment to “strengthen Syria’s air defence systems in line with the reinvigoration of military cooperation between the two countries”, and said the deal “will increase our determination for joint cooperation to confront the U.S. pressures”. The following day, Baqeri met with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who remarked that “this agreement reflects the strategic level of relations between Iran and Syria”. A U.S. military spokesperson subsequently asserted that “the mission of U.S. forces in Syria today remains the same as it was when they first began operations in 2014… U.S. service members will continue to execute the Defeat ISIS mission in Syria, working in conjunction with vetted local forces in northeast Syria and around Al-Tanf Garrison”. View More 1 July 2020 Meeting with Russian and Turkish counterparts under the “Astana Process” talks over Syria, President Rouhani asserted that U.S. sanctions against Syria were “economic terrorism” and pledged that Iran “will continue to support the people and the legitimate government of Syria with greater power. He went on to argue that “the illegitimate presence of the occupying forces of the U.S. regime on Syrian soil has become a destabilising factor for Syria and the entire region, and is plundering natural resources of the country by increasing its illegal military bases in Syria's oil-rich in the eastern Euphrates”. Rouhani further condemned “the increasing scope of the Zionist Regime's [ie, Israel’s] aggression on Syrian soil, and maintained that Israel’s “actions along with the occupation of the Golan Heights have been a factor in destabilising and threatening the peace and security of the region, and the occupying regime will face its consequences”. The meeting concluded with a joint statement emphasising that “there could be no military solution to the Syrian conflict and that it could only be resolved through the Syrian-led and Syrian-owned, UN-facilitated political process in line with the UN Security Council Resolution 2254”. It further recognised “Israeli military attacks in Syria as destabilising and violating the sovereignty and territorial integrity of this country and intensifying the tension in the region”. View More 25 June 2020 Prime Minister Netanyahu opined that “three main challenges are before us, and we are taking action without respite against them: First, we are taking constant action against the efforts of Iran and its proxies to entrench militarily in Syria. The Iranian military must leave Syria. Second, we are taking action against the efforts of our enemies to develop precision missiles in Syria, Lebanon and other areas. Third, and most importantly, we will not allow Iran to attain nuclear weapons”. “Iran is continuing to lie to the international community in its effort to achieve a bomb”, Netanyahu argued. “I have been claiming this for years and today the International Atomic Energy Agency, the IAEA, understands this”. He further affirmed that “we regard with utmost seriousness the threats of destruction against Israel by Iranian and pro-Iranian elements… Whoever tries to attack us places himself in very great danger”. View More 23 June 2020 Syrian state media reported that “hostile air targets coming from east and northeast of Palmyra launched a number of missiles on some military sites” in eastern and southern Syria, causing two fatalities and four injuries. Hours later there were further reports that “the Israeli enemy launched a new aggression through which it targeted a number of the Syrian military sites” near Hama. View More 18 June 2020 CENTCOM Commander Kenneth McKenzie indicated that “what we're committed to doing in Syria is working with our SDF partners to continue to pursue the remnants of ISIS that exist up and down the Euphrates River Valley, so at the same time, set the conditions for long term stability east of the Euphrates River”. He also noted: “I've been given no direction to pull back right now, and I don't know when that would occur, under what conditions that would occur”. View More 17 June 2020 The sanctions provisions of U.S. “Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act of 2019” (the Caesar Act) went into effect. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that “the Treasury Department and State Department are releasing 39 designations under the Caesar Act and Executive Order 13894 as the beginning of what will be a sustained campaign of economic and political pressure to deny the Assad regime revenue and support it uses to wage war and commit mass atrocities against the Syrian people”. Pompeo further asserted that “we anticipate many more sanctions and we will not stop until Assad and his regime stop their needless, brutal war against the Syrian people and the Syrian government agrees to a political solution to the conflict as called for by UNSCR 2254”. View More 5 June 2020 The U.S. Special Envoy for the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS, James Jeffrey, reported that “we are concerned about Daesh [ISIS] elements south of the Euphrates in those areas that the [Syrian] regime and its Iranian and Russian supporters control. There has been a significant increase in attacks, and we’re watching that closely because Daesh sees the entire Iraq/Syria area as one single front”. Jeffrey went on to assert that “there’s been no change in the American position that we’re going to continue to maintain forces as long as the Iraqi government is willing to have U.S. and coalition forces present in the country until the enduring defeat of Daesh is accomplished, and it’s not yet accomplished”. He also noted that in Iraq “NATO has taken the decision to expand its current level and current kind of activities which are higher-level headquarters coordination, coaching, training, that sort of thing”. View More 4 June 2020 The foreign ministers of the Global Coalition to Defeat Daesh/ISIS Small Group issued a communique reiterating their “shared determination to continue the fight against Daesh/ISIS in Iraq and Syria, and to create conditions for an enduring defeat of the terrorist group, which remains the Coalition’s sole purpose”. The ministers also “welcome[d] the establishment of a new government in Baghdad, and look[ed] forward to engaging in a fruitful dialogue with the government of Iraq on our joint endeavor to maintain pressure on Daesh/ISIS”. “In Syria, the Coalition stands with the Syrian people in support of a lasting political settlement in accordance with UN Security Council Resolution 2254”, the statement added. Speaking at the meeting, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo addressed Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi by saying that “we are all committed to your success in support of the enduring defeat of ISIS”, also noting that “we’re sharing the financial burden of Iraq’s immediate recovery”. View More 21 May 2020 The U.S. Special Representative for Iran, Brian Hook, indicated that “we have seen some tactical displacement of Iranian troops. We see both Russia and Syria recognising the incentives for Iranian troops and forces under Iranian command and control to leave Syria… That has been a condition of American and the international community providing reconstruction assistance”. Hook added that Iran “is an obstacle… to moving along toward a post-conflict political process. So we think that there are increasing incentives for Iran to leave Syria”. Relatedly, the Israeli military reported “a backward movement [of Iranian/Iranian-backed forces] from various locations to other locations that are further away and in reduced numbers”, assessing the shift to be “not massive, not underwhelming” yet “undeniable”. View More 18 May 2020 Outgoing Israeli Defence Minister Naftali Bennett confirmed that “we have intensified the scope of the attacks against Iranian forces in Syria. We’ve made it clear by our actions that there’s no place protected from us. There’s no safe place for those who try to attack the State of Israel”. He further argued that “Iran has in fact started a process of withdrawing from Syria, but we’ve got to finish the job… We have to increase the diplomatic, economic, military and technological pressure, as well as operate in other realms”. The same day, Iran’s diplomatic spokesperson asserted that “we are in Syria to help them fight terrorism… our attendance in Syria does not concern the U.S. and the Zionist regime [ie, Israel] at all”. View More 17 May 2020 Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei contended that “the Americans openly say that they have deployed their forces in Syria because there is oil there. Of course, they will not stay for long either in Iraq or in Syria. They will certainly have to leave those countries, and they will definitely be expelled”. View More 9 May 2020 A senior U.S. diplomat indicated that “Iran has been persistent in its efforts to establish this beachhead basically on Israel’s border and to bring in advanced weaponry and assets targeting Israel and moving equipment… through Syria to Hizbollah with this sort of land bridge. We see repeatedly, oftentimes with no claims of responsibility, that these assets are being hit with great regularity, just pounded, and it would make sense at a certain point that Iran would want to cut its losses and downsize its presence there just because it’s increasingly costly to them in terms of life and property”. The official added that the Iranians “would be well advised to start using some of this investment in this military infrastructure in Syria and with Hizbollah to start spending some of that money on their own people who are suffering terribly from COVID”. View More 7 May 2020 The U.S. Special Representative for Syria Engagement, James Jeffrey, confirmed that “we see some Iranian movement around Syria pulling back from areas where the Israelis have struck them. We’ve also seen a withdrawal of Iranian-backed militias – some Hizbollah, some from other countries. But this may be chalked up to a relative lull in the fighting”. He further noted that “what we have not seen… is any strategic Iranian commitment not to try to use Syria both as a second launching pad for long-range weapons against Israel and as a conduit – the famous Shiite Crescent – on to provide Hizbollah more lethal and more modern precision-guided missiles, again, to threaten Israel. That would be the big change”. Jeffrey added that “our policy right now is to restore the situation in 2011 before the conflict began, and that would eventually lead to all of the other military forces that have entered leaving. Ones were most interested in, of course, are the Iranians and the Iranian-commanded militias”. View More 6 May 2020 U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo indicated that “we have been very clear to the Assad regime all along, and to the Russians in Syria: the Iranians need to leave. They need to leave not only the south west corner that has a direct and real impact on Israel and risks to the Golan, but more broadly throughout the country”. He further argued that “the very terror regime that we talk about in the Islamic Republic of Iran has got a campaign that supports what Assad has done that has brutalised and destroyed the lives of hundreds of thousands, caused six or seven million people to have to flee Syria. The Iranian regime is responsible for that in the same way that the Syrian regime is”. View More 5 May 2020 Amidst a series of suspected Israeli airstrikes in Syria, Israeli Defence Minister Naftali Bennett asserted that “we are determined, more determined [than Iran], and I can tell you why — for Iran, Syria is an adventure happening 1,000km away from home. For us, it’s our lives”. He further warned that “Iranian soldiers who come to Syria and operate there… are putting their lives at risk, they are paying that price and will continue to do so. We will not give up and we will not allow the establishment of an Iranian forward operating base in Syria”. In related comments, an unnamed Israeli defence official assessed that “Syria is paying a growing price for the Iranian presence in its territory, for a war that isn’t [Syria’s]. Iran has turned from an asset to Syria into a burden”. View More 20 April 2020 Foreign Minister Javad Zarif met with President Bashar al-Assad and other senior Syrian officials during a visit to Damascus. Zarif told Assad that “the U.S.’s true intentions have come to light with regards to its refusal to lift unfair sanctions against nations during tough times of fighting” COVID-19, and the two sides discussed bilateral and regional matters including the Astana Peace Process. The U.S. Special Representative for Syria Engagement, James Jeffrey, reacted to Zarif’s trip by asserting: “if Iran were truly concerned about the health and safety of the Syrian people, it would support the UN-led political process under UN Security Council Resolution 2254 and withdraw IRGC, Hizbollah and other terrorist forces under its command from the entirety of Syria… Iran's only contributions to Syria have been violence and instability”. He went on to stress that “we continue to offer humanitarian assistance to help address the coronavirus outbreak, while the Assad regime, Russia and Iran obstruct aid and starve the Syrian people of food and medicine”. View More 18 February 2020 Israeli Minister of Defence Naftali Bennett indicated that “we are seeing the initial indications of Iran weakening and considering a new tack in Syria”. He added that “[Iranians] are sending forces in order to establish a presence there to exhaust us, but we are turning this disadvantage into an advantage. We have intelligence and operational superiority, and we are telling the Iranians clearly: Get out of Syria… we are moving from a defensive position to an offensive position – to weaken, to exhaust, to tire and wear out the head of the octopus [ie, Iran] in order to weaken its arms”. View More 12 February 2020 Responding to statements by senior Israeli officials about countering Iran in Syria, Iran’s diplomatic spokesperson asserted that “Iran will not compromise and hesitate for a moment to defend its presence in Syria and also defend its national security and regional interests. Consequently, Iran will give a decisive and crushing response to any aggression or stupid act by the Zionist regime [ie, Israel]”. View More 11 February 2020 Israeli Defence Minister Naftali Bennett assessed that “for years on end, we have fought against the Iranian tentacles in Lebanon, Syria and the Gaza Strip, but we have not focused enough on weakening Iran itself. Now we are changing the paradigm, we are now engaged in a continued effort to weaken the Iranian octopus through economic, diplomatic and intelligence measures, as well as with military means and various other approaches”. Bennett further addressed Iran and stated: “you have no business being in Syria, and so long as you continue to build terrorist bases there, we will continue to hurt you even further”. View More 8 February 2020 Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif met with the UN Special Envoy for Syria, describing a “political solution as the only way out of the crisis” and underscoring “Tehran's full preparedness for any cooperation within the framework of respecting the sovereignty, independence, unity and territorial integrity of Syria”. View More 14 January 2020 Syrian state media alleged that “Israeli warplanes perpetrated a new aggression on T4 airport from the direction of al-Tanf region… The army air defenses immediately intercepted the hostile missiles and shot down a number of them, meanwhile, four missiles reached the targeted area and the damages were limited to materials”. View More 13 January 2020 In a meeting with the Syrian prime minister, Iranian Supreme National Security Council Secretary Ali Shamkhani emphasised that “as long as terrorist forces of the U.S. stay in the west Asia region, this region will experience no stability, peace or sustainable security… expulsion of the wicked U.S. is possible through unity of regional nations and governments”. View More 2 January 2020 The head of the IRGC's Qods force, Qasem Soleimani, was killed in a U.S. strike in Baghdad. The U.S. Department of Defense confirmed that "at the direction of the President, the U.S. military has taken decisive defensive action to protect U.S. personnel abroad by killing Qasem Soleimani”, adding that "Soleimani was actively developing plans to attack American diplomats and service members in Iraq and throughout the region". Iran confirmed Soleimani’s death, and the IRGC said that four other Qods force members along with five Iraqis, notably including a senior Hashd official, were also killed in the operation. Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei subsequently asserted that "enemies should bear in mind that the Islamic Republic of Iran will take tough revenge on criminals over the martyrdom of General Soleimani". View More 23 December 2019 The Syrian foreign minister alleged that “the U.S., using its illegal military base in Al-Tanf, sent drones to Homs and committed air strikes by them against the oil refining infrastructure” four days earlier. View More 20 December 2019 President Trump signed the “Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act of 2019” (the Caesar Act). In a statement, Secretary of State Pompeo indicated that the act “provides the U.S. tools to help end the horrific and ongoing conflict in Syria by promoting accountability for the Assad regime. It also holds accountable those responsible for the widespread death of civilians and for numerous atrocities including the use of chemical weapons and other barbaric weapons”. Pompeo added that “the law provides for sanctions and travel restrictions on those who provide support to members of the Assad regime, in addition to Syrian and international enablers who have been responsible for, or complicit in serious human rights abuses in Syria”. View More 4 December 2019 Speaking alongside U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Prime Minister Netanyahu remarked that “we have been fortunate that President Trump has led a consistent policy of pressure against Iran. Iran is increasing its aggression as we speak even today in the region. They’re trying to have staging grounds against us and the region from Iran itself, from Iraq, from Syria, from Lebanon, Gaza and Yemen, and we are actively engaged in countering that aggression”. Netanyahu further maintained that “Iran’s aggression is growing, but its empire is tottering. And I say let’s make it totter even further”. Secretary Pompeo, citing unrest in Iraq, Lebanon and Iran, stated that “some of these are people that are seeking freedom and a reasonable way to live, and they recognise the threat that is posed by the kleptocrats that are running the Islamic Republic of Iran”. View More 14 November 2019 Addressing a Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS Small Group Ministerial meeting, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo asserted that “we’re watching the space once occupied by this fraudulent caliphate [ie, ISIS] like a hawk. That’s why we’re maintaining our residual presence at Tanf, in southern Syria, and our capacity to conduct air operations. We’ve repositioned some our troops in north east Syria and in the broader region as well, to make sure that ISIS will never get a second wind and to prevent ISIS from recapturing the oil fields”. “We are continuing to pursue a diplomatic resolution of the Syrian conflict with UN Security Council Resolution 2254 as the guide so that stability can, one day, return to this war-torn land”, Pompeo added. The coalition also issued a joint communique. View More 13 November 2019 U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper stated that “our mission [in Syria] is the enduring defeat of ISIS. We're going to have about 500 to 600-ish troops there, at the end of the day. We're still moving troops out of northeastern Syria”. In related remarks, a U.S. senior official, referring to oil fields around Deir al-Zour, noted that “the oil is – has been, for the last four years, managed by our partner, the civilian side of our partner operation, the SDC [Syrian Democratic Council]… And we have every expectation they will be continuing to do that without any interference from us”. “Our role”, he added, “is one of ensuring that they’re not bothered by anybody in continuing to do what they’ve been doing for the last four years”. View More 7 November 2019 A senior U.S. defence official indicated that “the military mission in Syria continues. It is the defeat of ISIS, like it has been since 2014, shoulder-to-shoulder with our SDF [Syrian Democratic Forces] partners”. He further clarified that “the securing of the oil fields is a subordinate task to that mission, and – and the purpose of that task is to deny ISIS the – the revenues from that oil infrastructure”. Another defence official asserted that “everyone in the region knows where American forces are. We're very clear with anyone in the region in working to deconflict where our forces are. If anyone – we work to ensure that – that no one approaches or has – shows hostile intent to our forces, and if they do, our commanders maintain the right of self-defence”. View More 7 November 2019 Syria and Russia jointly issued a statement asserting that “in southern Syria, the U.S. continues to hold the illegally occupied 55-km zone around Al-Tanf and prevent the dissolution of the Rukban refugee camp”. “We urge the entire international community to exert pressure on the U.S., which continues to violate the international law by its illegal presence in Syria, and to oblige them to withdraw completely troops from the sovereign Syrian Arab Republic”, the statement added. View More 1 November 2019 The U.S. State Department in its Country Reports on Terrorism 2018 assessed that “the [Syrian] regime continued to provide weapons and political support to Hizbollah and continued to allow Iran to rearm the terrorist organisation”. It further contended that “the Assad regime’s relationship with Hizbollah and Iran grew stronger in 2018 as the regime became more reliant on external actors to fight opponents and secure areas”. View More 30 October 2019 Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif stated that “we will be in Syria as long as the Syrian government and people want”. He went on to say that “it seems that the U.S. is staying to protect the oil and at least President Trump is honest to say what the U.S. intends to do”. View More 28 October 2019 Reaffirming that “the United States will retain control of oil fields in northeast Syria”, U.S. Defence Secretary Mark Esper stressed that “we will respond with overwhelming military force against any group that threatens the safety of our forces there”. Responding to a question on whether this mission “include[s] denying access, preventing Russian or Syrian forces”, Secretary Esper went on to assert that “the short answer is yes, it presently does, because in that case we want to make sure that SDF does have access to the resources in order to guard the prisons, in order to arm their own troops, in order to assist us with the Defeat ISIS mission. So that's our mission, is to secure the oil fields”. Esper also reaffirmed that “we also were given the earlier directive to retain forces at the Al-Tanf garrison”. View More 25 October 2019 U.S. Secretary of Defence Mark Esper indicated that “the U.S. will maintain a reduced presence in Syria to deny ISIS access to oil revenue as we reposition for the next phase of the Defeat ISIS campaign”. Esper added that “ultimately, we always intended, as the president directed, to maintain a presence at the Al-Tanf garrison”. He also revealed that “we are now taking some action… to strengthen our position at Deir el-Zour, to ensure that we can deny ISIS access to the oil fields”, which “will include some mechanized forces”. Previously, via Twitter, President Trump had stated that “perhaps it is time for the Kurds to start heading to the oil region”. View More 26 September 2019 The U.S. Department of Treasury issued sanctions against “one entity, three individuals and five vessels participating in a sanctions evasion scheme to facilitate the delivery of jet fuel to Russian forces operating in Syria”. In related comments, Secretary of State Pompeo stated that “the U.S. has concluded that the Assad regime used chlorine as a chemical weapon on May 19th in an attack at Latakia province, Syria… the U.S. will not allow these attacks to go unchallenged, nor will we tolerate those who choose to conceal these atrocities”. View More 26 September 2019 Secretary of State Pompeo stated that “the U.S. supports UN efforts to end military violence in Syria. Ongoing violence - fuelled by Iran and Russia - is exacerbating Syria’s dire humanitarian situation and must cease for a political solution to take root”. View More 18 September 2019 Iran’s President Rouhani remarked that “it is strange that the enemies of the region have not yet understood the power of the regional nations’ resistance… instead of admitting that Lebanon’s Hizbollah has high capabilities and power both in scientific and military knowledge and bravery in the field, or that a part of brave young people of Iraq have liberated different cities across the country from the hands of terrorists, and instead of admitting to the growth and greatness of nations like Syria and Yemen, they are seeking to accuse others”. View More 16 September 2019 President Rouhani remarked that “there is only a political solution to the Syrian crisis, and this can only be achieved through constructive interaction and participation by all Syrian people”. He further argued that “U.S. troops must leave the area as soon as possible and that the Syrian government's control must expand in the east and north of the Euphrates, as in the rest of Syria”. View More 11 June 2019 The U.S. Treasury Department announced sanctions against "sixteen individuals and entities associated with an international network benefiting the Assad regime", including a pair of companies based in Lebanon that "facilitated shipments of Iranian-origin petroleum to Syria". View More 31 May 2019 Secretary Pompeo reaffirmed that “our efforts in Syria are aimed at a political resolution … UN Security Council Resolution 2254 is the guidepost”. Pompeo went on to refer to “the work that we’ve done with the Turks in Manbij, west of the Euphrates River, and we are attempting to set up a system… call it a buffer zone, call it what you will – that will reduce risk of terrorists attacking from Syria into Turkey and reduce risks that Turkey will come south and disrupt Kurdish activity inside of Syria”. View More 29 May 2019 The U.S.’ diplomatic spokesperson asserted that “our maximum pressure campaign on Iran is designed to deny the Iranian regime, the world’s foremost state sponsor of terrorism, the means to conduct its destructive foreign policy. Our campaign is working”. She elaborated that “the campaign is starving Iran’s proxies of the funds they rely on to operate on behalf of the regime”, citing examples including Hizbollah, Hamas, the Syrian government and Shiite militias in Iraq. She went on to affirm that “we will continue to apply maximum pressure on the Iranian regime to deny it the means to conduct its destructive foreign policy and compel the regime to negotiate a comprehensive new deal that addresses the full scope of its malign behaviour”, while also indicating that “there is a path forward and we will talk tomorrow if they would like to see the bright future that we believe is there for the Iranian people”. The spokesperson further indicated that “we do not want a war with Iran. We want to de-escalate with Iran. In fact, what we seek is to end economic sanctions, to end the maximum pressure campaign”. View More 22 May 2019 The U.S. special representative for Syria, James Jeffrey, told the House Foreign Affairs Committee that “the [Trump] administration is pursuing three mutually reinforcing whole-of-government strategic objectives in Syria – the enduring defeat of ISIS, the removal of all Iranian-led forces from Syria and the resolution of the Syrian crisis through a political solution in line with UN Security Council Resolution 2254”. “The Iranian regime’s malign activity has left us no choice but to pursue the withdrawal of all Iranian-commanded forces from the entirety of Syria”, Jeffrey elaborated. “Iran’s reckless behaviour makes the situation in Syria more dangerous… Iranian-backed forces use bases inside Syria to participate in violence again[st] the Syrian people and launch attacks against Israel”. He added that “Iran and its proxies threaten U.S. national security by sowing instability in the region that exacerbates tensions between communities and provides space for terrorist groups to thrive”. View More 14 May 2019 U.S. Central Command indicated that remarks by a senior military official in the U.S.-led counter-ISIS campaign, who had stated that "there's been no increased threat from Iranian-backed forces in Iraq and Syria", "ran counter to the identified credible threats". CENTCOM's statement added that "OIR [Operation Inherent Resolve] is now at a high level of alert as we continue to closely monitor credible and possibly imminent threats to U.S. forces in Iraq". View More 27 April 2019 A senior U.S. military official asserted that "we're going to continue to reach out to our partners and friends in the region to ensure that we make common cause against the threat of Iran... I believe we'll have the resources necessary to deter Iran from taking actions that will be dangerous". He went on to indicate that "over the long term, we're going to reduce our forces in Syria, we recognise that, that's the guidance in which we're operating... that will be something that we will look at very carefully as we go forward". The U.S., he added, would maintain "a long-term presence in Iraq, focussed on the counter-terror mission". View More 16 April 2019 Foreign Minister Javad Zarif traveled to Damascus for meetings with President Assad and other senior Syrian officials. View More 4 April 2019 A senior Syrian official asserted that "Syria will liberate the occupied Golan by all means and all choices are on the table". He also argued that "the U.S. administration lies with regard to pulling out its troops, which are illegitimately deployed in Syria, and it isn't our duty to teach them to be honest". View More 25 March 2019 The U.S. added "dozens of new vessels involved in illicit oil shipments" from Iran to Syria in an update to a November 2018 advisory. A senior Treasury Department official noted that "the U.S. has made it clear to the maritime shipping community that we will not tolerate the use of petroleum as a mechanism to finance rogue regimes in Iran and Syria", adding that "as Iran and Syria attempt to adapt their illicit tactics and shift to new vessels, we will continue to provide these updates to the shipping community". View More 22 March 2019 The U.S. special representative for Iran, Brian Hook, noted that "we know historically that Iran has given Hizbollah an average of $700 million a year... we have seen evidence of the impact [of U.S. sanctions] when the leader of Hizbollah makes a public appeal for charity. It speaks for itself. This is the kind of impact that we want". He added that "we know that we have denied the [Iranian] regime even in the short amount of time [since sanctions came into effect] many billions of dollars in revenue", and underscored that the U.S. held "talks with any government where we see sanctions violations or even potential sanctions violations". Hook went on to underscore that "we are... committed to ensuring that troops under Iranian command are out of Syria", and suggested Iran had a "vastly-under reported role in Yemen" despite having "no legitimate interest" in the country. "Giving [Iran] a foothold in Yemen", Hook argued, "allows them to threaten two straits of international commerce". View More 20 March 2019 President Trump indicated that "in Syria we're leaving 200 people there and 200 people in another place in Syria, closer to Israel, for a period of time". He also predicted that remaining ISIS-held territory "will be gone by tonight".