As Russia and Syria attacked Syria’s last major region held by anti-government rebels, the United States sent a warning to Russia’s Syrian-based forces in the form of a contingent of Marines.
Hours before reports of bombing began to come in from Idlib province, located in the northwest of Syria, more than 100 Marines were sent to a coalition base in Al Tanf, which the U.S. protects with a 35-mile security zone around the town. Marines conducted live-fire exercises in the region.
Tanf is located in the south, near Syria’s border with Jordan. Twice this month, Russian leaders have threatened the U.S. with military exercises in the region, and twice the Russians have been told the U.S. will not permit that, Fox News reported.
“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,” said Lt. Col. Earl Brown, a spokesman for U.S. Central Command, the Los Angeles Times reported. “However, the United States will not hesitate to use necessary and proportionate force to defend U.S., coalition or partner forces.”
U.S. Marines conducted a live-fire aerial assault exercise in southern Syria on Friday designed to warn Russian and other military forces to stay away from an American base there. https://t.co/f9xeELrp8k
— Wladimir (@vvanwilgenburg) September 8, 2018
The U.S. uses the Tanf base to train Syrian fighters to oppose Islamic State militants. Officials said they sent the Marines in response to fears that Russia could use its upcoming offensive in Idlib province as a time to also attack Tanf.
Initial reports Saturday from Idlib province said Russian jets were bombing civilian targets. At least four people were reported killed, according to The Guardian.
— Julian Röpcke (@JulianRoepcke) September 8, 2018
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported there were more than 30 air raids Saturday in southwestern Idlib and Hama province, Fox News reported.
Health official Munzer Al-Khalil said there was “great fear” in Idlib province, Sky News reported.
"I fear we are about to face the most catastrophic crisis in our war!" Idlib health chief tells AFP a full-scale assault by the Syrian regime to recapture the rebel bastion will result in a humanitarian nightmarehttps://t.co/qMNfALfuhc
— AFP news agency (@AFP) September 8, 2018
“I fear we are about to face the most catastrophic crisis in our war,” he said. “When they decide to take an area, they first attack hospitals. I am worried this has already started.”
Neighboring Turkey issued a warning against escalating the attacks.
“Idlib is a ticking bomb,” said Turkish government spokesman Ibrahim Kalin. “We can turn it off and start a new process in Syria if the international community gets serious about the Syrian war and shows that they do care about the Syrian people.”
Earlier this week, President Donald Trump warned Syria against attacking Idlib.
“President Bashar al-Assad of Syria must not recklessly attack Idlib Province. The Russians and Iranians would be making a grave humanitarian mistake to take part in this potential human tragedy. Hundreds of thousands of people could be killed. Don’t let that happen!” Trump tweeted Monday.
President Bashar al-Assad of Syria must not recklessly attack Idlib Province. The Russians and Iranians would be making a grave humanitarian mistake to take part in this potential human tragedy. Hundreds of thousands of people could be killed. Don’t let that happen!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 3, 2018
With that in mind, Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said conversations have begun to develop military response options for Trump, NBC reported.
Dunford said no decision has been made.
“But we are in a dialogue, a routine dialogue, with the president to make sure he knows where we are with regard to planning in the event that chemical weapons are used,” he said during a trip to India.
Trump “expects us to have military options and we have provided updates to him on the development of those military options,” Dunford said.
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