The U.S.-led coalition does not “seek” to offensively fight against the Iran-backed Shiite militias in Syria who recently fired on American troops for the first time, but it is ready to “defend itself” if they attack, a Pentagon spokesman tells Breitbart News.
In other words, the spokesman indicated the U.S. military is willing to combat the Iran-backed Shiite militias aligned with dictator Bashar al-Assad in Syria in “self-defense,” consistent with the position expressed by Secretary of Defense James Mattis during a congressional panel hearing Tuesday.
Breitbart News asked the Pentagon whether or not the U.S. considers the Iran-allied Shiite militias in Iraq and Syria a threat.
“The Coalition’s mission is to defeat” the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) “in Iraq and Syria,” replied U.S. Marine Maj. Adrian Rankine-Galloway, a spokesman at the Pentagon, via email. “The Coalition presence in Syria addresses the imminent threat ISIS in Syria poses globally. The Coalition does not seek to fight Syrian regime, Russian or pro-regime forces partnered with them, but is well prepared to defend itself from hostile threats if necessary.”
Pro-Assad forces include Iran-affiliated Shiite militias.
“The Department of Defense keeps a close eye on developments that may impact US security interests and the safety of our forces in the region,” added the Pentagon spokesperson.
On Wednesday, Reuters exclusively reported, “U.S. troops based in Syria’s southeastern desert have expanded their footprint, rebels there say, increasing the risk of direct ground confrontation between the Americans and Iran-backed pro-government forces.”
Maj. Rankine-Galloway urged the Iran-backed militias and their allies to focus “their efforts on the defeat of ISIS, which is our common enemy and the greatest threat to regional and worldwide peace and security.”
ISIS’s imminent demise presents an opportunity for Shiite Tehran to seize control of supply routes through Syria — between Iran and Lebanon — that had been controlled by the Sunni terrorist group.
The U.S.-led coalition’s presence in southern Syria represents a potential conflict with Iranian efforts to control those routes.
Last week, a U.S. warplane shot down a drone used by Iranian-backed Shiite militias after it fired on American forces and their allies in the area around the al-Tanf base in Syria’s southern border with Jordan.
“This is the first time that pro-Syrian regime forces — which the US says includes Iranian-backed Shia militias — have fired on the US-led coalition,” reported CNN.
“The drone fired one munition and missed. No casualties were reported, but the U.S. military said the drone posed a threat to coalition forces,” added USA Today.
Following the incident, American Col. Ryan Dillon, a spokesperson for the U.S.-led coalition, indicated that Iran-affiliated militias “pose a threat” to alliance troops located in and around the U.S.-manned al-Tanf base, home to several hundred American advisers supporting local militias fighting against ISIS.
Although Maj. Rankine-Galloway would not explicitly say the Iran-backed militias threaten American forces, the U.S.-led coalition struck the pro-regime forces, including the Shiite fighters, for the third time last week to push them away from American service members.
The relationship between the United States and Iran-allied Shiite militias fighting against ISIS is complicated.
While the U.S. military has described the Shiite fighters as a threat in Syria, American forces in Iraq are fighting alongside the Iran-allied Popular Mobilization Units (PMU), a group of Baghdad-sanctioned Shiite militiamen also known as Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) and Hashd al-Shaabi.
Moreover, CNN reports that, in a “highly unusual move,” the U.S.-led coalition last week allowed a pro-Syrian regime aircraft to carry out an airstrike in southern Syria intended to protect Iranian-backed Shiite fighters aligned with Assad.
“The US does not support the militia group but approved the strike after a request from the Syrian government was relayed by the Russians through established communication channels,” acknowledged the news outlet.
CNN suggested the Assad regime airstrike may have wounded an unknown number of American forces.
In Iraq, where the U.S. is working with Shiite militias, the Pentagon insists it is not lending support to PMU fighters linked to Iran, noting that the U.S. military is “strictly” vetting the troops for affiliation to Tehran and terrorist groups, as mandated by law.
In January, a top U.S. general praised the PMU for their contribution to the fight against ISIS.
However, the PMU may ultimately facilitate the Tehran-backed Syrian regime’s goal of joining up with Iran-allied Shiite fighters in Iraq and establish a supply route from Damascus to Baghdad.
“Iraq’s [Shiite-led] government is aiming to control the border area with Syria in coordination with the Iranian-backed army of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad,” noted Reuters.