A June airstrike by Russian warplanes against a rebel base near al-Tanf in southern Syria came within just 24 hours of hitting British special forces deployed in the country, US officials are now claiming. The base is said to have belonged to the New Syrian Army, a relatively minor rebel faction that receives US and British backing and operates out of Jordan.
The Pentagon has been harping on about this incident for over a month now, claiming a “dramatic showdown” with Russian jets in the skies over the base, which ended when the US planes left to refuel, and Russia bombed the base, killing four rebels.
The claim now is that 20 British SAS fighters were at the base the previous day, and that the attack amounted to Russian “bullying” to try to get the West to cooperate more. Russia insists that they have no idea who is or isn’t a US ally at any given time, and suggested the US provide an up-to-date map of who they’re supporting at any given time so they don’t bomb those people.
The area around Tanf also has active Nusra and ISIS forces, so it is unsurprising that Russia would be keen to target a significant rebel base there, particularly since Nusra is almost always embedded in any given rebel base, even the nominally “moderate” ones.
While the British government hasn’t discussed their presence in Syria, the New Syrian Army has publicized the fact that British forces “frequently” enter Syria from neighboring Jordan to coordinate with them. The New Syrian Army still controls the Tanf crossing into Iraq, but a recent offensive against the more valuable al-Bukamal crossing ended in the group being soundly defeated by ISIS, to the point there were doubts if they’d ever fully recover.