The Syrian rebel outfit which shares the al-Tanf base with US troops in southern Syrian has seen its ranks slashed in half. US military has said 180 of its fighters have recently been struck from its ranks and told to return to civilian life:
“We can confirm that about 180 Maghaweir al Thowra fighters recently completed their military service and are transitioning back to civilian life,” a Coalition spokesperson told The Defense Post in a Monday, November 20 email.
“These men have served honorably in the war against ISIS, and many will now play an important role in the reconstruction of Syrian infrastructure and the reconstitution of its economy,” the spokesperson said adding that the Coalition sees the demobilization as a “reassuring sign of return to normalcy for a country that has been at war for more than five years.”
Maghawir al-Thawra (Commandos of the Revolution) was a very small outfit to begin with. Its numbers in the best of times were in the low hundreds. The 180 fighters who have just been booted easily represent one half of its prior strength.
Moreover, Commandos of the Revolution are the last group in southern Syria on Pentagon’s payroll and the only group that is still housed in its al-Tanf base on the Syrian-Iraqi border.
In 2015 the Pentagon hoped entire southern Syria would be taken over by its ambitiously named “New Syrian Army” alliance which numbered in the low thousands, but that coalition proved itself ineffectual in combat and unraveled in late 2016 due to morale problems.
Commandos of the Revolution and Lions of the East (Usoud al-Sharqiya) were two only two remnants of that group which remained in US service after the New Syrian Army debacle.
In August of this year Pentagon withdrew its backing for Usoud al-Sharqiya and ordered it to evacuate the joint US-rebel base at al-Tanf. The issue was that Lions insisted on continuing hit-and-run artillery attacks against the Syrian army which exposed US troops in the area to Syrian, and possible Russian, retaliation. Lions actually claimed the US threatened to bomb them, and in September withdrew back into Jordan claiming the US had ordered them to do so.
This left Commandos as the only southern Syrian group on the Pentagon’s payroll. Unlike the other rebels in western Syria, who organized themselves on their own and were adopted by the CIA only later on, the New Syrian Army and the Commandos of the Revolution were US creatures through and through, and were built up by the Pentagon from the ground up. They are legitimately deemed Pentagon’s “in-house” rebels.
Even so the Commandos suffered a slate of defections to the Syrian army over the summer, which may help explain why the Pentagon seems to have opted for a major spring cleaning, telling 180 of its fighters to return to civilian life.
The US military is most likely cutting deadwood here, getting rid of unreliable or unfit Commandos, but what is the reason? Is it just some spring cleaning, preparation for war, or preparation to hand over the al-Tanf base to the Syrian army?
We can’t know, but what is clear is that the at least 150 Pentagon troops in southern Syria are now deployed there with just a token force of only a few hundred locals in US employ. The Syrian dressing over the brazen American occupation of al-Tanf in southern Syria has never been thinner.