US troops are conducting a major live-fire exercise at At Tanf in Syria, US Central Command (CENTCOM) reported Sept. 7, 2018, just one day after Russia accused the US-led coalition forces operating in the area of harboring terrorists and threatened to launch strikes in the deconfliction zone.
Russia informed the US on Sept. 1, 2018, via the deconfliction line that Russian, Syrian, and other pro-regime forces intended to enter the At Tanf deconfliction zone to pursue ISIS terrorists, CENTCOM spokesman Lt. Col. Earl Brown told Business Insider on Sept. 7, 2018, confirming an earlier report from CNN. The Russians then warned the US on Sept. 6, 2018, that they would carry out precision strikes in the area, a risky move that could easily spark a larger conflict.
More than 100 US Marines supported by M777 artillery are conducting live-fire drills to send a “strong message” to Russia, Lucas Tomlinson at Fox News reported, citing US officials.
“Our forces will demonstrate the capability to deploy rapidly, assault a target with integrated air and ground forces, and conduct a rapid exfiltration anywhere in the OIR combined joint operations area,” CENTCOM spokesman Capt. Bill Urban said in an official statement prior to the start of the exercises.
The combat exercises involving US troops, as well as Operation Inherent Resolve forces, are being held to send a clear message to Russia: The US does not need their help to take on terrorists in the area.
Members of 5th Special Forces Group (A) conducting 50. Cal Weapons training during counter ISIS operations at Al Tanf Garrison in southern Syria.
“The US does not require any assistance in our efforts to destroy ISIS in the At Tanf deconfliction zone and we advised the Russians to remain clear,” Brown explained, adding, “Coalition partners are in the At Tanf deconfliction zone for the fight to destroy ISIS. Any claim that the US is harboring or assisting ISIS is grossly inaccurate.
“The Russians agreed to a 55-kilometer deconfliction zone around the At Tanf garrison to avoid accidental conflict between our forces, and to remain professionally engaged through deconfliction channels,” he added, “We expect the Russians to abide by this agreement. There is no reason for Russian or pro-regime forces to violate the confines of that deconfliction zone.”
Were Russia to violate the agreement, it could lead to a serious escalation in an already war-torn region.
“The United States does not seek to fight the Russians, the government of Syria or any groups that may be providing support to Syria in the Syrian civil war,” Brown told BI, “However, the United States will not hesitate to use necessary and proportionate force to defend US, coalition or partner forces, as we have clearly demonstrated in past instances.”
In early 2018, roughly 40 US troops held off around 500 Russian mercenaries and pro-Syrian regime forces, reportedly killing hundreds.
Featured image: US Marines firing a howitzer in Syria.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.