First US Air Base in Syria: The Game Changer Left out of Obama’s Speech
The polished assurances US President Barack Obama offered the American nation from the Oval Office on Sunday, Dec. 6 – after the shock of the San Bernardino shooting rampage – sounded very much like more of the same:
“The strategy that we are using now — air strikes, special forces and working with local forces who are fighting to regain control of their own country — that is how we’ll achieve a more sustainable victory, and it won’t require us sending a new generation of Americans overseas to fight and die for another decade on foreign soil,” he said.
But unannounced American actions in the Syrian and Iraqi arena in the last two weeks bespeak a major change which was not reflected in the Oval Office address.
On Dec. 1, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said: “In full coordination with the government of Iraq, we're deploying a specialized expeditionary targeting force to assist Iraqi and Kurdish peshmerga forces and to put even more pressure on ISIL." He added, "These special operators will over time be able to conduct raids, free hostages, gather intelligence and capture ISIL leaders."
Like the president, Carter omitted to mention a pivotal detail that would have given their words a whole new dimension:
DEBKA Weekly’s exclusive military and intelligence sources reveal that an American military engineering unit under US Central Command, CENTCOM is hard at work building the first US air base in Syria at the Abu Hajar airport, disused since 2010 outside the oil-rich northern Syrian town of Rimelan. The new facility is embedded in the enclave controlled by the Syrian Kurdish People’s Defense Units (YPG).
It is located just 339 km by air from Raqqa, the Islamic State’s de facto capital in Syria, and even less, 155 km by road or 84 km by plane or helicopter, from Mosul, the ISIS stronghold in Iraq.
The new US air base is a reversal of Obama’s longstanding position on the war on ISIS and augurs seven major repercussions:
1. It is a major step toward implementing the Euphrates Pact (first revealed in the last DEBKA Weekly) secretly concluded between Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin. That pact shares out the front against ISIS between the US, for operations east of the biblical river, and Russia, in the west.
2. It is the first air base the US has ever established on Syrian soil.
3. Although the officers of the US unit building the base were told that it was a supply an logistical facility, the runways under construction – 2,500m long and 250m wide – are clearly designed to serve American fighter jets,
4. CENTCOM will on no account rely just on the local Kurdish militia to defend the new base. Infantry, tanks, artillery units and other military personnel will have to be brought over for this purpose.
The unfolding of stages in the US military buildup in Syria is reminiscent of the phased development by the Russian army and air force of their two bases at Khmeimim near Latakia and Al-Shayarat east of Homs.
5. Adjacent to Rimelan are about 2,000 oil wells which had a pre-war capacity of 400,000 barrels of crude per day, or 60 percent of Syria’s oil production.
Once the air base is up and running, American oil companies will no doubt be pressed into service to repair the oil wells and put them back in production.
6. Just as the Russians are acting to stabilize the Kurds’ military hold in the northwestern Syrian strongholds of Kobane and Afran, the Americans are boosting Kurdish dominance in the northeast. (See map)
Both powers are in head-on clash with Turkish President Tayyp Erdogan
7. The Rimelan air base will be the second military site in the Syrian-Iraqi arena established by the Americans for fighting ISIS. US military personnel are already operating at Irbil, capital of the Kurdish autonomous region of Iraq, 204 km east of Rimelan and 110 km by air.
The Obama administration is thus quietly and without any formal announcement establishing two strong military bases in close proximity to the Islamic caliphate’s main power centers, without the US president giving the game away.