The Pentagon has claimed all the credit for wiping out the vast majority of terrorists in Syria. It also challenged the Russian defense ministry’s assertion that US fighter jets were actively interfering with Moscow’s anti-terrorist operations in Syrian airspace.
On Wednesday, the Chief of the Russian General Staff declared “there’s no territory controlled by ISIS,” but only “some spots of resistance” left in Syria. A spokesman for the US-led Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve (CJTF-OIR) was quick to dismiss the Russian statement Saturday, claiming that IS (Islamic State, formerly ISIS/ISIL) terrorists continue to operate in Deir ez-Zor province.
“Our carefully considered military assessment is that Daesh is still present on both sides of the Euphrates River, and therefore Coalition surgical strikes continue on the East Bank of the Middle Euphrates River Valley in support of Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF),” a CJTF-OIR representative told Sputnik.
“We know that Russian and Syrian regime aircraft are continuing their strikes on the west bank of the Euphrates River, between the towns of Mayadin and Abu Kamal [Al Bukamal], so it is likely that [Daesh] has yet to be cleared from that area,” the spokesman added. He emphasized that the Pentagon disagrees with the Russian assessment.
The Pentagon also dismissed allegations that the US Air Force is hampering Russian military operations in the country, stating that only the actions of American pilots in Syria have had any meaningful success in defeating the terrorists there.
On Saturday, Russia’s defense ministry accused the US Air Force of interfering in its air operations over Syria. The Russian military cited one such interference, saying, that on November 23, a US F-22 fighter prevented two Russian Su-25 strike aircraft from bombing an IS base to the west of the Euphrates River.
“Most close-midair encounters between Russian and US jets in the area around the Euphrates River have been linked to the attempts of US aircraft to get in the way [of the Russian warplanes] striking against Islamic State terrorists,” Russian military spokesman, Major General Igor Konashenkov noted.
“Those claims are incorrect,” the Pentagon representative told Sputnik Saturday. “The US-led coalition, not the Russian Federation or Syrian Regime, is the only force that has made meaningful progress against [Daesh/ISIS].”
The spokesman’s statements are in line with the general American leadership perception of Washington’s role in defeating IS in Syria. The trend to diminish Russia’s achievements in Syria started earlier this year, when Ash Carter, the former Secretary of Defense under Barack Obama, accused Moscow of achieving “virtually zero” in Syria.
“They haven’t done anything,” Carter stated just weeks before Obama and his team left office. “They came in, they said they were going to fight ISIL, and they said they were going to help in the civil war in Syria… They haven’t done either of those things. As a consequence of course, we’re fighting ISIL ourselves.”
And just this week, President Donald Trump praised himself and Secretary of Defense James Mattis for their achievements in bringing IS to its knees.“He’s knocked the hell out of them,” Trump boasted during a cabinet meeting Wednesday. “Of course, I made it possible by what I let you do, right?” Trump lightheartedly asked Mattis.
The US campaign against IS in Syria has for years focused on arming and training the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), including the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG). Despite the group’s long standing and unwavering support to the US, the Kurds have recently been abandoned by Washington. The Kurds in Syria are now eager to coordinate their operations with the Russian command, while the US continues to support remnants of the SDF which is now left with mostly Arab militias.
“The Coalition continues to work with the SDF to ensure that previously liberated areas are cleared for the return of civilians. We are also working with the Syrian Democratic Council to create the space necessary to form a truly democratic and representative government in Syria through the UN-backed peace talks,” the CJTF-OIR told Sputnik.
It did not elaborate how the Syrian Democratic Council will work with the Committee for the Management of the Eastern Territories of Deir ez-Zor, a mechanism recently created under Russian guidance to maintain social order and distribute humanitarian aid in the region.
Washington, however, has made no secret that its soldiers plan to stay in Syria, despite the continued objection by Damascus, which sees the American presence on its territory as illegal and an act of occupation.
“We are going to maintain our commitment on the ground as long as we need to, to support our partners and prevent the return of terrorist groups” Pentagon spokesman Eric Pahon said Tuesday.