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US Cuts Ties With Local Syrian Group Trained to Fight IS

Map of al-Tanf, Syria
Map of al-Tanf, Syria

The U.S.-led coalition fighting Islamic State is cutting ties with a local Syrian partner force who "engaged in activities not focused on fighting ISIS," a coalition spokesman said Thursday.

Army Colonel Ryan Dillon told reporters that American forces were "in the process of ceasing our support and receiving the equipment" provided to the group Shohada al-Qartyan (ShQ) to fight Islamic State militants in southern Syria.

"We have made it very clear time and again that our goal in Syria and in Iraq is to fight ISIS and to fight ISIS only," Dillon said, using the common acronym for Islamic State. "Our partner forces, we've asked them to be committed to that same mission."

Two U.S. officials confirmed to VOA that the group targeted pro-Syrian regime forces located outside southern Syria's so-called deconfliction zone, which for months has been established as the area within a 55-kilometer radius of the al-Tanf garrison, where coalition forces are training counter-IS fighters.

One official confirmed that this was not the first time Shohada al-Qartyan had carried out these types of attacks.

"They wanted to go back on their oath to fight only Islamic State," another official told VOA.

Still talking

Other local allies remain at the garrison and continue to cooperate with coalition advisers, officials said, with Dillon adding that discussions with ShQ leaders were ongoing.

The Pentagon refers to its local allies in southern Syria as the "Vetted Syrian Opposition" (VSO), and many of these Arab fighters initially organized against the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

The VSO differs from the Syrian Democratic Forces, a large fighting force of both Kurdish and Arab fighters who are fighting Islamic State in northern Syria.

Some of the VSO forces are indigenous to areas along the middle Euphrates River Valley, a region overrun by IS. Dillon estimated Thursday that 5,000 to 10,000 IS fighters had gathered in that area.

However, Syrian government troops have recently positioned themselves between the al-Tanf garrison and the middle Euphrates River Valley.

"Can we leave on trucks and go straight across to Abu Kamal and Mayadin and Deir ez-Zor without running into the regime? Likely not," Dillon said. "But as far as any future plans on getting them into the fight, we will address that, and we believe that there will be an opportunity to use them in the fight against ISIS in the middle Euphrates River Valley when needed."

The story was first reported by CNN.