The brutal proxy war in Syria, which has had the deep involvement of American intelligence and the Pentagon, has been wrapping up after grinding on for nine years. With the coronavirus pandemic now completely taking over the news cycle, and as Washington struggles to contain both the virus and devastating economic fallout, Syria has taken a far back seat in Western media despite the continued presence of American forces on the ground.
It seems Damascus is ready to take advantage of the situation, rolling back US influence and presence in the country. Syrian media as well as local sources say a large group of US-backed and trained fighters from al-Tanf camp, where American special forces have maintained a presence for years, have defected to the Syrian Army.
"Several U.S.-backed rebel fighters willingly surrendered themselves to the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) forces in the Homs Governorate this week," Beirut-based Syrian war monitor al-Masdar News reports, citing local sources. "Members of the U.S.-backed rebel forces in the Tanf region of southeastern Homs agreed to surrender their weapons and equipment to the Syrian Arab Army after lengthy negotiations."
Pro-government media described it as "a major blow to the United States" in the region. Video circulated on social media purporting to show a convoy of vehicles leaving the al-Tanf region to join the pro-government side.
The video was reportedly taken by a reporter with the pro-government broadcaster "Sham FM" and purports to show the defectors entering Tadmour from al-Tanf in southeast Homs province:
بالفيديو .. الجهات المختصة تتمكن بعملية نوعية من تأمين انسحاب وتسوية أوضاع مجموعة كبيرة من نخبة المقاتلين لدى المجموعات المسلحة المتمركزة في قاعدة التنف بكامل سلاحهم و عتادهم و قاموا بتسليمها للجهات المختصة— Yusha Yuseef 🇸🇾 (@MIG29_) April 14, 2020
شام اف ام pic.twitter.com/SyPjlzGIZ5
An 8-vehicle convoy reportedly departed the area with US military presence and drove to a Syrian Army post across the desert, where militants handed over their equipment and weapons.
The conditions of the agreement have not been made known, but negotiations had reportedly been ongoing for some time. More broadly, Damascus has pursued a 'reconciliation' program - offering select 'rebel' militant groups amnesty opportunities if they switch back to pro-government forces.
For years the Pentagon has been training and equipping the Kurdish and Arab 'Syrian Democratic Forces' (or SDF) — however, the Kurdish-dominated group in Syria's northeast has lately felt betrayed by Washington last year essentially giving Turkey's Erdogan a green light to invade northern Syria.
In particular, America's control of al-Tanf and its border crossing into Iraq has also been consistently condemned by Russia. The US has long maintained its presence is needed to fight ISIS, but Russia has called it an imperialistic land grab of sovereign Syrian soil in order to ultimately pressure Assad.