Pentagon Rejects Claim It Is Retraining Islamic State Fighters
By Arab News
By James Reinl
The US Department of Defense on Wednesday rejected a Russian claim that it re-trained former Daesh militants in a bid to destabilize Syria, dismissing the suggestion as “false and absurd.”
Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Mike Andrews told Arab News that allegations from the chief of the Russian General Staff, Gen. Valery Gerasimov, were bogus and that the US continued to battle the extremist group.
“The outrageous allegation that the (US-led) coalition runs a training center for former ISIS terrorists in Tanf, or anywhere else in the world, is false and absurd,” said Lt. Col. Andrews, using an alternate acronym for Daesh.
“This is just a continuation of ridiculous, meaningless and totally untrue statements from the Russian MoD that seeks to discredit the US and our successful coalition fight against ISIS in Syria,” he added, referencing Moscow’s Ministry of Defense.
Earlier, in an interview with the Komsomolskaya Pravda newspaper that was published on Wednesday, Gen. Gerasimov said the US was re-training former Daesh militants under the banner of the New Syrian Army and other armed groups.
The general’s claims center on a US military base at Tanf, a strategic Syrian highway border crossing with Iraq in the south of the country, which the Pentagon describes as a temporary base for training partner forces to fight Daesh.
According to Gen Gerasimov, Russian satellites and drones have spotted militant brigades at the base that were “practically Islamic State” who have switched allegiance and are trained to destabilize the already-turbulent country.
Earlier this month, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered a partial withdrawal of Russian troops from Syria, signalling the wind-down of an intervention that helped turn the conflict in favor of Bashar Assad.
Russia launched an air campaign in Syria in September 2015 with the aim of “stabilizing” Assad’s government after a series of defeats.
US-backed rebels have sought to topple Assad, but have had a common enemy in Daesh, which this year lost almost all the territory it held in Syria and Iraq.
“We urge all actors operating in Syria to remain focused on the very real threat of ISIS and to carry out good-faith efforts to bring peace and stability to war-torn Syria,” Lt. Col. Andrews told Arab News.
Jennifer Cafarella, a Syria expert at the Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based think tank, said Gen. Gerasimov was trying to discredit the Pentagon and said he needed to back up his claims with evidence.
“This is clearly a Russian operation targeted to discredit America’s local partners in Syria in order to gain additional leverage,” Cafarella told Arab News.
“Can the Russians offer any ‘proof’ and how they classify ISIS fighters? Does it mean any military aged male in ISIS-held terrain? I would actually regard it as a sign of success for the US to recruit from available pools of recruits that ISIS could otherwise access.”