While Washington was fixated this week by former FBI director James Comey’s testimony, on the other side of the planet, a major story was playing out that could have profound consequences for the United States.
Three times in the last month, the U.S. military has come into direct conflict with the combined forces of the Assad regime, Iran-supported Shiite militias, Hezbollah, and possibly even Iran’s elite Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps. The clashes have reportedly resulted in the deaths of a small number of pro-regime forces, and are much more strategically important than the much-ballyhooed U.S. air strike on the al-Shayrat airfield back in April in response to the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons.
Yet, even as Washington potentially stumbles into war, there has been little public explanation from the highest levels of government, scant media coverage, and virtually no congressional oversight. This is no way to handle what could potentially mutate into a vastly expanded American military intervention in the Middle East.
The incidents have all occurred in the al-Tanf area of southeastern Syria, where some 150 U.S. troops are training opposition forces intended to fight the Islamic State. The first incident occurred in mid-May, when a convoy of regime forces consisting primarily of Shiite militias and other Iranian proxies headed towards al-Tanf and was struck by U.S. planes. This week, there have been two additional incidents—another Iran-backed ground incursion that was hit by U.S. forces from the air, and what appeared to be an Iranian-made drone that reportedly fired at U.S. forces before being destroyed.