28 militants and six drivers from the Jaysh Maghawir al-Thawra (‘Revolutionary Commando Army’) rebel group arrived in Palmyra, handed over all their weapons and equipment and surrendered to take advantage of the Syrian government’s recent amnesty decrees, SANA has reported, citing a source said to be involved in the process.
The group’s evacuation from the At-Tanf area, a blob of US-held territory in southern Syria near the Jordanian and Iraqi border, was facilitated following over four months of planning, according to authorities.
SANA’s source said that the haul of surrendered equipment included eight vehicles, some of them fitted with heavy machine guns, along with a small number of automatic weapons, sniper rifles, 2 RPG launchers and a grenade launcher, along with communications equipment and binoculars.
Images of equipment & ammo of rebels group that surrendered from Tanf zone to SAA pic.twitter.com/4Bb6dCxjCd— Syrian Constitution (@syrianconst) April 17, 2020
Ghannam Samir al-Khedair, the group’s leader, said he and his comrades had been displaced from Sweida by Daesh (ISIS)* and crossed the border into Jordan, where they were trained, after which they were sent to guard the Rukban refugee camp. Al-Khedair also revealed that his men were demoralised after finding out that much of the relief supplies meant for the camp, which once held as many as 45,000 people, was being sold to Daesh, and discovering that other Jaysh Maghawir al-Thawra militants also supported the terrorists.
Khaled Samir al-Khedair, another former militant from the At-Tanf base, said that US occupation forces were training militia to attack Syrian Army positions, as well as civilian infrastructure and oil and gas fields. Salah Rashid al-Zaher, another militant, confirmed that this training for sabotage ops was taking place. According to al-Zaher, in addition to much of the Rukhban camp aid being sold to Daesh, some of it was also traded on the black market to camp residents at exorbitant prices.
The SANA report comes two days after confirmation by the Russian military that a group of over two dozen militants trained at At-Tanf had surrendered to the Syrian Army. The militants began their journey to Palmyra on the night of 13 April, but had to fight off a detachment of Jaysh Maghawir al-Thawra forces to escape, arriving in the ancient city on 14 April.
Officials in both Damascus and Moscow and the Syrian and Russian militaries have repeatedly expressed concerns about the disastrous humanitarian situation at the Rukban refugee camp over the course of many years, and have reported on the Pentagon’s use of the At-Tanf military base to retrain former extremists to renew their struggle against the Syrian government.
Damascus has stressed repeatedly that the only solution which could end the al-Rukban refugees’ suffering would be for the US to withdraw from At-Tanf and leave Syria. At the moment, it’s estimated that there are still as many as 13,500 people at the camp, among them 6,000 militants, and members of their families. At least 150 US troops are estimated to remain at At-Tanf.
The US moved in to take control of the At-Tanf area in early 2016, just as the Syrian Army began its counteroffensive against Daesh militants in the sparsely populated desert areas of central Syria. US forces formally established the Jaysh Maghawir al-Thawra militia after dissolving its predecessor, the so-called ‘New Syrian Army’ militant group, in late 2016. Syria and its allies have repeatedly demanded that the US withdraw from the Arab Republic’s sovereign territory. The area has seen repeated deadly clashes between Syrian forces and entrenched US forces and their militia allies.
* A terrorist group outlawed in Russia and many other countries.