Infected US Troops & Re-Emerging ISIS: Dueling 'Disinfo War' In Syria Turns Bizarre

After the coronavirus pandmic gripped the globe and world headlines, the 'information war' in Syria and the broader Middle East took on a bizarre tone. 

Starting late last month the Kremlin publicly charged that the Pentagon was keeping mum on a large-scale COVID-19 outbreak among the some one- to two-thousand American troops stationed in northeast Syria.

The suggestion was that infected troops would become super-spreaders among the Syrian population under US occupation. At the time the Russian Foreign Ministry issued the perhaps unsupported assertion, “We receive reports of explosive Coronavirus infection spread among the US servicemen and of these facts being kept mum on.”

US occupying forces in northeast syria, Getty Images

Pundits in the West in turn said Russia was genning up a 'virus scare' meant to damage US credibility in the region and among the local population where it had a presence. But at the time the vast majority of cases among the US military were to be found in the US Navy, with zero official reports of the disease among US personnel in Syria.

The US Department slammed what it called Russia's "disinformation campaign" in Syria to "exploit" the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a special briefing on the situation earlier this month.

"Russian disinformation claims that the United States or Western powers are the origin of the virus while instilling uncertainty about the international response," US special envoy James Jeffrey said. "Through such tactics, Russia clearly signals it’s willing to take advantage of a global crisis in order to pursue its own destabilizing agenda without any regard for the human consequences."

However, no doubt if there were an outbreak on American bases in Syria, where special forces are still assisting the Kurdish-led SDF in "securing" oil and gas fields, Pentagon brass would keep a lid on it for security concerns. 

The Kremlin also warned that a "catastrophic" coronavirus outbreak could soon devastate refugee camps and prisons under US control in Syria, something which the UN and others have since voiced concern about. 

"Washington bears full responsibility for the civilian population and provision for their humanitarian needs on territories under its control east of the Euphrates and in the south near al-Tanf, where the notorious Rukban camp for the internally displaced people is located," a statement said last month.

Fast-forward a month. On Thursday the Russian Foreign Ministry in fresh attacks on US operations in Syria charged that the US is facilitating a new ISIS resurgence, after the terror group had long been driven to operate 'underground'. 

Interestingly Kremlin spokeswoman Maria Zakharova linked the COVID-19 pandemic to the Islamic State's reemergence taking place right under Washington's nose. “We monitor the deterioration of the situation in the non-government-controlled areas in north-eastern Syria. (ISIS) decided to take advantage of the conditions of the spread of the coronavirus and escalated their aggression,” she told a news conference Thursday.

ISIS file image via Homeland Security Today

“Between 10 and 15 May alone, the terrorists carried out more than 20 attacks against Kurdish forces in the provinces of Deir Ezzor and Raqqa, killing more than 20 people and wounding more than 30 others.” She continued, “We were alerted by disturbing reports of the escape of seven ISIS elements from a prison at the Al-Hawl Camp for the displaced.” 

She then pivoted to the US occupation in Syria's North: “all these facts come as a new confirmation that the United States, which occupies areas beyond the Euphrates and its allies, does not pay attention to the population,” Zakharova said.

Syria is but the latest contested sphere where coronavirus has figured central in geopolitical calculations and an information war between the US and its rivals - China being first and top of the list where COVID-19's origins has largely defined the debate.