War on the Rocks: “What an Unfolding Humanitarian Disaster in a U.S.-Protected Enclave Tells Us About American Strategy in Syria”

New from me today on War on the Rocks:

“What an Unfolding Humanitarian Disaster in a U.S.-Protected Enclave Tells Us About American Strategy in Syria”

The American base in Tanaf, in Syria’s southeastern desert, has taken on outsized political import. It was originally meant to be a staging ground for a southern prong of the counter-ISIS military campaign. Then, for a brief, overheated moment, it was supposedly where America would block an Iranian “land bridge.” Now it is a symbol of Washington’s refusal to yield to Syrian, Iranian, and Russia pressure and, in theory, key leverage on Damascus and its allies.

But on the ground – below the cloud of geopolitical intrigue and the U.S. military’s defense of Tanaf – the base is tangled up with the Rukban camp. Rukban is an improvised, squalid settlement between the earth berms marking the Syrian and Jordanian border that is home to 50,000 displaced people, among them the families of America’s local Syrian partners. The “deconfliction” zone around Tanaf is all that protects Rukban from a Syrian regime advance.

The United States has taken ownership of the Tanaf zone, including Rukban. And Rukban’s residents are miserable and hungry. The United States and its allies have been unable to convince the Jordanians to allow a new delivery of assistance to Rukban’s residents, just over the border berm from Jordan. Now America has to appeal for a cross-line aid delivery via Damascus, pending the approval of a regime that has weaponized humanitarian access.

The whole thing is a farce.

Rukban is an embarrassment, as well as a lesson in America’s ability to bend Syria and the region to its strategic ambitions. Before Washington wants to start marshaling its allies towards big geopolitical ends, it should start by convincing Jordan to allow a crane drop of tarps, blankets, and food into Rukban.

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