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IS expanding footprint in Syria's east controlled by US, Russian General Staff Chief says

Valery Gerasimov said that ‘sleeping’ terrorist cells have become active there

MOSCOW, December 5. /TASS/. Terrorists in Syria are still present only on the territory controlled by the US in the Al-Tanf area and on the eastern Euphrates River bank, head of the Russian General Staff Valery Gerasimov said on Wednesday at a briefing for foreign military attaches.

"Today the ISIS (a former name of the terrorist organization Islamic State, which is outlawed in Russia - TASS) militants are staying just east of the Euphrates, on the territory controlled by the US. The remaining part of the armed units of radical groups led by Jabhat al-Nusra (outlawed in Russia - TASS) is concentrated inside the Idlib de-escalation zone and in the Al-Tanf area, which is controlled by the US-led coalition," Gerasimov said.

Gerasimov reiterated that by the start of the operation of the Russian Aerospace Force in 2015 about 10% of Syria’s territory remained under the control of the government forces. Most part of the country’s territory was liberated with support from the Russian army during this time. In particular, the Syrian government restored control over the communities of Palmyra, Aleppo, Uqayribat, Deir ez-Zor and Abu Kamal. The active phase of the operation to eliminate criminal groups on Syrian territory was completed in December last year.

The head of the General Staff stressed that the illegal presence of American military bases on Syrian territory remains a major unresolved issue in Syria. "Let’s take Al-Tanf, for example. The United States established the so-called 55-km security zone around this community, and illegal armed groups continue their terrorist activity under its cover, making periodic sorties against the government forces," he reported.

The Americans explain the need for their military presence by the necessity to counter Iran, which is allegedly transporting arms and military equipment to Syria through the Syrian-Iraqi border. Russia suggested removing the security zone around Al-Tanf, Gerasimov said, and establishing joint Russian-American control over the border passage. "However, the American partners left our proposal unanswered," he said.

In addition, he said, the situation on the eastern Euphrates River is escalating, where the US, using the Syrian Kurds, is trying to create an independent quasi-state entity that would be independent from the central authorities. "They are also forming a government for the so-called Democratic Federation of Northern Syria. The Americans, that support the Kurds’ separatist sentiments by delivering arms and military equipment, allow them to oppress Arab tribes," Valery Gerasimov said.