Since DEBKAfile first revealed on March 9 that the US army was boosting its bases in Iraq and Syria with troop reinforcements coming through Israel and Jordan, DEBKA Weekly confirms that this process is not only ongoing but is establishing a far more ambitious US military spread in both countries. The immediate goals are to engage the pro-Iranian Iraqi militias building up in both countries, and to pre-empt a potential decision in Baghdad to order US forces to quit the country. However, the overriding – and as-yet unacknowledged – strategic objective of this critical deployment – mostly of US Marines – is to establish a substantial American military presence in broad swaths of territory across central and western Iraq, and eastern and southern Syria. Six US bases in Iraq and Syria are being consolidated to mark out American control of a total of roughly 1,500 sq.km of territory in both countries.
For the first time since the US-led coalition war on the Islamic State (2015-2016) ended, US Marines are taking up position at a base near the town of Ramadi, capital and largest town of the western Iraqi Governorate of Anbar, a predominantly Sunni province. About 110km west of Baghdad and 50km west Fallujah, Ramadi winds along the banks of the River Euphrates. (See attached map.)
The second US base taking in reinforcements is K1, strategically located 15km from the oil town of Kirkuk. It is familiar terrain for the American army, which used its facilities between 20013 and 2014. It then passed to the Kurdish Peshmerga until October 2017, when K1 was seized by the Iraqi army and the Shiite Hash al-Shaabi militia. The US took it back earlier this year, converting it into the depot for absorbing the American troops and equipment pulled out of Syria. Today, with added personnel, K1 is the US sentinel for the northern sector of the Iraqi-Syrian border, in the region of the semi-autonomous Kurdish government of northern Iraq.
Extra troops have also streamed to the big American Ayn al-Asad Airbase, the source of air support in past and future engagements. It was there that President Donald Trump first set foot in Iraq, when he and the first lady paid a Christmas visit to the troops there. Ayn Al-Asad is located in Anbar province, about 160km west of Baghdad and 8km west of the village of Khan al Baghdadi.
“We spent a fortune on building this incredible base. We might as well keep it,” said Trump in an interview on Feb. 3. “And one of the reasons I want to keep it is because I want to be looking a little bit at Iran because Iran is a real problem.”
This was Trump’s way of encapsulating the short-term rationale for the boosted US deployments in Iraq and Syria, namely, the urgent need to wall off the spread of Iranian expansion and influence through Iraq and Syria. But the three newly-strengthened bases provide the US Middle East command with much more – full control of central, western and northern Iraq.
The extra troops flown into three US bases in Syria meet a comparable US objective in that country.
Al-Tanf in the southern Homs Governorate, 24km west of the main Syrian-Iraq border crossing, controls the Syrian-Jordanian border and the key Baghdad-Damascus highway.
Al Raqqa, on the northwestern bank of the Euphrates, was the infamous Islamic State’s Syrian capital – until 2017, when the jihadists were crushed by US-backed, Kurdish-led forces. Al Raqqa is located 160 east of Aleppo and 40km east of the Tabqa Dam on the Euphrates, Syria’s largest.
US reinforcements are also reaching Remelin, northeast of Hasakeh, which is the political and military capital of the Syrian Kurds’ northern regions. Remelin, the second US air base, which houses a helicopter fleet, is within reach of the Iraqi border and close the Syrian frontier with Turkey.
All six bases, strengthened this week in Iraq and Syria with an influx of predominantly Marine forces, afford the US military control over a wedge of territory spreading over hundreds of square kilometers. It is enclosed by central Iraq’s Ramadi, northern Syrian Hasakeh and al-Tanf in the south.