US forces help repel ISIS attack on southern Syrian base

The seal of Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve.

By COREY DICKSTEIN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: April 10, 2017

WASHINGTON – U.S. special operators helped repel an Islamic State assault over the weekend on a small outpost in southern Syria where Americans train local forces to help fight the terrorists, Pentagon officials said Monday.

Three U.S.-backed Syrian fighters were killed in the assault launched Saturday by ISIS against the al-Tanf base near Syria’s southern border with Jordan and Iraq, said Air Force Col. John Thomas, a spokesman for U.S. Central Command. No Americans were killed or injured in the fighting.

Thomas described the attack as a “complex and coordinated” effort to take the base from the coalition.

“Clearly it was planned,” Thomas told reporters at the Pentagon. “The coalition and our partner forces had the resources to repulse that attack. A lot of them wound up being killed and the garrison remains controlled by the people in control before being attacked.”

ISIS initiated the assault with a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device, a tactic it has used routinely against U.S.-backed forces in Iraq and Syria. The militants followed the car bomb with a ground assault of about 20 to 30 ISIS fighters, many of them wearing suicide vests, said Eric Pahon, a Pentagon spokesman.

The Syrian fighters and American troops initially repelled the attack with direct fire on the ground. Eventually, American and coalition warplanes launched airstrikes that destroyed ISIS assault vehicles and killed most of the terrorist group’s assault force, Pahon said.

The coalition also supplied medical evacuation of the injured Syrian fighters, Thomas said.

It was not clear how long the ISIS assault lasted. Officials said the militants launched the attack at about midnight, local time.

U.S. special operators have been training Vetted Syrian Opposition forces at al-Tanf for more than a year. That group of Syrian rebels has been fighting Islamic State in southern Syria and works with Jordan’s military to maintain security along the border.

Pentagon officials have said ISIS could increase attacks in southern Syria as pressure mounts on the group’s Syrian capital of Raqqa. Key ISIS leaders have fled Raqqa to the south in recent months as U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces have closed in on the city. Pentagon officials have said Raqqa is nearly surrounded by Syrian Democratic Forces fighters and an assault on the city is expected to begin in the coming months.

Twitter: @CDicksteinDC