Pentagon: Possible insider threat at US base in northeast Syria

If so, it would mark the first time that US troops in Syria or Iraq have suffered an attack originating from inside their base.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby speaks during a media briefing at the Pentagon, Wednesday, April 13, 2022, in Washington. (Photo: Alex Brandon/AP)
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby speaks during a media briefing at the Pentagon, Wednesday, April 13, 2022, in Washington. (Photo: Alex Brandon/AP)

WASHINGTON DC (Kurdistan 24) – Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby acknowledged on Monday that the attack last week on a US base in northeast Syria that injured four US soldiers might well have been carried out by one or more individuals inside the base rather than coming from outside the base, as initially reported.

The attack occurred on the morning of April 7 on a base known as Green Village in Deir al-Zor province. The Euphrates River separates the territory held by the Kurds, America's local partners, in the east, from Syrian regime-held territory to the west of the river.

Initially, the attack was thought to be the result of indirect fire (i.e., rocket, mortar artillery, etc.). But US officials subsequently came to believe that it was an explosive charge planted from within the base.

If so, it would mark the first time that US troops in Syria or Iraq have suffered an attack originating from inside their base.

The attack left four US service members with traumatic brain injuries, Kirby explained. However, all of them, he added, have recovered and have been "returned to duty or they will be very, very soon."

Syria, Iran more Aggressive because of Ukraine Crisis

On Thursday, a week after the attack, the US-led Coalition against ISIS issued a statement, explaining that "upon further investigation," the Coalition assesses "the explosions in Green Village were not the result of indirect fire but rather the deliberate placement of explosive charges by an unidentified individual(s) at an ammunition holding area and shower facility."

It is unclear why the Coalition perspective changed, but Kirby affirmed that "the going assumption" now is that the attack was the result of an explosive device, although it was still being investigated. 

Kirby gave no indication as to which party was likely behind the attack – which could have been carried out by Iran and its proxy militias, Syria, or ISIS.

Notably, both Syria and Iran—which are allied with one another and with Russia, as well—have become more aggressive with the crisis over Ukraine. Perhaps, they have more leeway with Russia preoccupied in Ukraine. Perhaps, Russia even encourages actions that make problems for the US and its allies.

It is also notable that Syria has long supported insurgents in Iraq—as the Deputy Secretary of Defense in the George W. Bush administration, Paul Wolfowitz, has explained on more than one occasion.

Read More: Al-Qurayshi vs. al-Mawla: What's in a name? What the US doesn't understand about ISIS

That thinking differs from the dominant US perspective, which is to see Islamic extremists as an entity onto themselves. That notion arose in the 1990s under the Clinton administration. It was also vigorously promoted in Israel.

But no such wall exists between Islamic extremists and other parties. Alliances form on the basis of shared objectives, even if they are short-term objectives.

The core of ISIS is the former Iraqi regime. This point was made in a lengthy and authoritative article, based on captured ISIS documents, by the highly regarded German news magazine Der Spiegel.

Following the overthrow of the Iraqi regime in 2003, many of its members went underground. They continued fighting—but not as Baathists or even Arab nationalists, more generally.

By 2003, those ideologies had little popular appeal. Rather, the former Iraqi regime adopted Islamic slogans and an Islamic facade—including, in 2014, even a caliph! 

That was essential to gaining the support they initially enjoyed, as ISIS gained control of one-third of Iraq and one-quarter of Syria. But the caliph was a figurehead—as Der Spiegel explained. 

The real powers running ISIS were members of Saddam Hussein's military-intelligence apparatus. The first iteration of that insurgent violence was al-Qaida in Iraq. The latest is ISIS. 

Syria supported both organizations. Most recently, it appears, Syria provided ISIS the support that enabled its stunning assault on the Hasakah prison, which aimed to free ISIS prisoners held by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). 

Read More: Understanding the Hasakah prison siege: how brutal parties use force, violence

Moreover, Israel is experiencing a spasm of terrorist violence. It began on March 22 with an ISIS attack that killed four Israelis. A second ISIS attack followed five days later, killing two border police. 

Most serious was the April 7 terrorist attack that killed five Israelis in downtown Tel Aviv, triggering a massive Israeli response. The Al-Aqsa Martyr's Brigade, a Palestinian group, claimed credit for that attack. Possibly, there was some coordination with ISIS. 

But whatever the case may prove to be, the series of terrorist assaults and Israeli countermeasures, which is ongoing, began with two lethal ISIS attacks that interrupted an extended period of calm. 

Syrian Fighters to Ukraine?

Elements of the Syrian army trained by Russia are headed to Ukraine to fight alongside Russian troops, the Associated Press reported on Monday. 

"During a visit to Syria in 2017, Vladimir Putin lavished praise on a Syrian general whose division played an instrumental role in defeating insurgents" there, AP explained.

"Now members of Brig. Gen. Suheil al-Hassan's division are among hundreds of Russian-trained Syrian fighters who have reportedly signed up to fight alongside Russian troops in Ukraine," it continued.

Russian forces have done poorly in Ukraine, and Moscow needs to bolster its forces there. Asked about the subject, Kirby explained that Russia had "actively tried to recruit foreign fighters out of Syria." In fact, Moscow claimed that it expected to get 16,000 men from Syria, although the US could not confirm that. 

AP anticipated an intensified Russian effort to recruit Syrians and cited as a key factor the appointment last week of Gen. Alexander Dvornikov, who had earlier led Russian forces in Syria, to head Moscow's faltering invasion of Ukraine.

Read More: Moscow appoints 'Butcher of Syria' to head Ukraine invasion

"Dvornikov is well acquainted with the multiple paramilitary forces in Syria trained by Russia," AP reported, "while he oversaw the strategy of ruthlessly besieging and bombarding opposition-held cities in Syria into submission."