The Pentagon responded to the highly unusual and unique Russian amphibious landing drills staged Saturday on the Mediterranean Sea along the Syrian coast, involving both its Navy and Air Force. Russia released footage of the large-scale exercise amidst threats issued from leaders in Washington, Paris, and London over the Russian-Syrian allied assault on al-Qaeda held Idlib Province.
The Pentagon has publicized its own military exercise that took place just prior to the Russian drills. US officials related to reporters that over 100 Marines flown to southeast Syria for what have been described as "snap live-fire excercises" in order to send a "strong message" to Russia after earlier this week Moscow warned its forces could attack in the area near US-occupied At Tanf.
In a statement a spokesman for the U.S. military’s Central Command said the air-assault drill was an effort to “demonstrate the capability to deploy rapidly, assault a target with integrated air and ground forces, and conduct a rapid exfiltration anywhere in the Operation Inherent Resolve combined joint operations area.”
The spokesman, Navy Capt. Bill Urban, explained further that “Exercises like this bolster our defeat-ISIS capabilities and ensure we are ready to respond to any threat to our forces.” However, with ISIS essentially now wiped out and driven almost completely underground, the threat appears more immediately aimed at Moscow.
It reportedly involved a company-sized unit and took place near or outside of the American garrison at Tanf, and the deployment of heavy artillery. Marines were deployed at the start of the exercise via assault helicopters.
Fox News details the real reasons behind the US show of force in southeast Syria during the live-fire drill:
The rare show of force in Syria comes months after U.S. aircraft — including AC-130 gunships, jets and bombers — killed roughly 300 Russian mercenaries near Deir al-Zor in eastern Syria after American special operations forces came under attack.
“The Russians agreed to a [34 mile] ‘deconfliction zone’ around the At Tanf garrison to avoid accidental conflict between our forces, and to remain professionally engaged through de-confliction channels. We expect the Russians to abide by this agreement,” Urban said.
Urban still urged that the US “does not seek to fight the Russians, the government of Syria or any groups that may be providing support to Syria.”
Meanwhile on Saturday the footage released by Russia’s Defense Ministry showed marine special forces equipped with the latest Russian gear landing on the shores of the Syrian Latakia province. As part of the staged invasion, the Russian Marines used helicopters, fast attack craft and armored vehicles while landing from major amphibious ships under cover of dozens of Russian combat aircraft.
Both the American and Russian drills come amid heightened tensions in the region (read "Everything you need to know about the looming battle for Idlib") as Moscow warns that the US is deploying additional military assets towards Syria for a potential missile attack against Syrian government forces. As previously reported, the missile destroyer USS Ross was deployed to the Mediterranean, carrying 28 Tomahawk cruise missiles; at roughly the same time the USS The Sullivans was deployed to the Persian Gulf and a B-1B Lancer strategic bomber was relocated to an air base in Qatar.
The Russian ministry said the preparations are “the latest evidence of the US intention” to strike after what it says will be a false flag chemical attack in Syria.
The Pentagon also announced that it has already compiled a list of preliminary targets in Syria, which the US military are planning to hit in case of a “chemical weapons attack.” And, It has also “routinely” briefed the White House on “military options” in case of such incident.
The Russian Defense Ministry has repeatedly warned that the militants in Idlib have been preparing a false flag attack using chemical weapons to justify the US strike against the forces loyal to the Syrian government. On Saturday, the ministry’s spokesman, Major General Igor Konashenkov, said that these preparations entered their “final stage."