Moscow, Tehran, and Damascus have repeatedly accused the US of training Islamic State fighters at the al-Tanf garrison in Syria, but all they’ve been able to do is complain about it. In reality, the base disrupts the flow of weapons from Iraq to Syria. Also, the U.S. Military base in Syria, will continue to be a stability factor in the eyes of Russia and Iran.

Experts working on the field of violent extremism and radicalization are watchful of the activities going on in Syria, most of them agree that the power of the Islamic State organization has downgraded but even though they are not so active, they still exist. But this fact, doesn’t seem to be in the advantage of the Russian conspiracy theory machineries.

Namely, on May 19, the online portal Tocka published an article with the headline “Project Syria: Former Field Commander Testifies and Discloses Pentagon and ISIS Link”, amazed by the headline I decided to give it a read, but I was soon disappointed because there are no facts in the article, there pictures without sources and a series of claims that didn’t make any sense. I was about to dismiss the article as poorly written disinformation, when the name Abu Hamza caught my attention, according to the article Abu Hamza had been collaborating with Russian journalists and telling his story, but by looking at the pictures Abu Hamza wasn’t on them.

Who is the notorious Abu Hamza?

There is no practitioner in the field of violent extremism that hasn’t heard about the famous Abu Hamza, he is an Egyptian cleric who was the imam of Finsbury Park Mosque in London, England, where he preached Islamic fundamentalism and militant Islamism. In 2004, Hamza was arrested by British police after the United States requested, he be extradited to face charges. He was later charged by British authorities with sixteen offences for inciting violence and racial hatred. In 2006, a British court found him guilty of inciting violence, and sentenced him to seven years’ imprisonment. On 5 October 2012, after an eight-year legal battle, he was extradited from the UK to the United States to face terrorism charges and on 14 April 2014 his trial began in New York. On 19 May 2014, Hamza was found guilty of eleven terrorism charges by a jury in Manhattan. On 9 January 2015, he was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole[1].

Meaning, it’s impossible that it’s the same Abu Hamza that Tocka is claiming to be “The former field commander who joined the side of government troops.” This sentence and the photographs shared by Tocka, convinced me to do more research on the article. As I mentioned before, on the photographs there is no sight of Abu Hamza and I am saying this because he has a very distinctive physical appearance. In 1987, after meeting Abdullah Azzam, an influential supporter of the notion of Muslims being obliged to fight jihad, Abu Hamza moved to Afghanistan. It was around this time that he lost an eye and both his hands. Accounts of exactly how and where the accident happened are not clear.

It had been claimed his distinctive features were the result of an explosion while he was taking part in a demining project in Jalalabad, Afghanistan. But at his US trial Abu Hamza said it happened while he was working with the Pakistani military in Lahore when an experiment with explosives went wrong.

Whatever the case might be, let’s get back to the photograph shared by Tocka.

This is the photograph of Syrian army soldiers gesturing in al-Rashideen area in Aleppo province, Syria, in this handout released by SANA on February 16, 2020. (SANA/Handout via REUTERS). The real story behind this photograph is that the Syrian army said on Monday February 16, 2020, it had taken full control of dozens of towns in Aleppo’s northwestern countryside and it would press on with its campaign to wipe out militant groups “wherever they are found”[2].

After a thorough research, I found the same story published by Sputnik, an online portal which is known as a Russian information agency, the successor of RIA Novosti. The agency implements its media strategy on the Balkans through its regional office – Sputnik Serbia[3]. In comparison with the charlatan article published by Tocka, Sputnik Serbia didn’t even bother to make up a new story, they just copied and pasted the story from another online portal, which is the primarily publisher of this story –

Patriotic and tabloid – Tv Channel Zvezda

Owned by Russia’s Ministry of Defence, Zvezda broadcasts television, produces online stories and radio programmes related to military, but also, more broadly, political and social affairs. Zvezda describes itself as “patriotic”, which in Russia translates as loyal to the government line. Zvezda is also known for a style bordering on tabloid journalism – and for spreading outright disinformation[4].

Project Conspiracy Theory

The article published by Zvezda on May 19, states: “The schemes that the US military works in Syria to justify their presence in the region have become known. A former member of the moderate opposition spoke about the tactics of the Pentagon, and today one of the main witnesses in Damascus is Hannam Samir, aka Abu Hamza.” According to Zvezda Hannam Samir, is now under special protection, also he is an important witness to what is happening in southern Syria. According to him, “…in the US-controlled territories there is a real conveyor for training militants.”

The article is very contradictory, which states that Samir is a “important witness – under special protection” because you can clearly see his face giving a video interview for Zvezda.

Nothing New in the East

Al-Tanf is a United States military base in Syria’s Homs Governorate located 24 km west of the al-Tanf border crossing in the Syrian Desert. The surrounding deconfliction zone is located along the Iraq and Jordan–Syria border. The base is located along a critical road known as the M2 Baghdad–Damascus Highway. A significant United States Armed Forces presence at the outpost began in early 2016 during the American-led intervention in the Syrian Civil War in order to train anti-Islamic State fighters of the New Syrian Army rebel group, which was dissolved and reemerged as the Revolutionary Commando Army in December 2016. As of 2020, the al-Tanf base continues to serve as the headquarters for the Revolutionary Commando Army and a garrisoned contingent of at least 200 U.S. soldiers operating on behalf of the CJTF-OIR Coalition.

The U.S. has called the al-Tanf base a counter to the Russia–Syria–Iran coalition’s residual influence in the area. The Rukban refugee camp for internally displaced Syrians is located within the deconfliction zone.


On May 18, 2016, the online portal Bellingcat, published a detailed article about the training and equipment that the New Syrian Army gets from the U.S. Military Base in Al – Tanf[5].

On June 16, 2016, multiple airstrikes hit the New Syrian Army (NSyA) camp at the al-Tanf border crossing in Syria. These airstrikes destroyed buildings, vehicles and equipment. 2 NSyA fighters died and many more were injured in the airstrikes. The New Syrian Army is a key part of the US government’s “Train and Equip” program which was set up to arm rebel groups to fight ISIS. New Syrian Army fighters are vetted by the US and Jordan to ensure that they are not extremists. Several hundred kilometers from the nearest government front line, the NSyA has never fought any group other than ISIS. Thus, the airstrikes that hit the New Syrian Army on June 16th only assisted ISIS on the ground. This would be a direct contradiction of Russia’s stated goal of defeating ISIS[6].

On September 13, 2018 Russia and the Syrian government warned the US in early September that they planned to carry out counterterrorism operations near a key US garrison in southeastern Syria known as al-Tanf, where several hundred Marines have been stationed since at least 2016. But the US responded with a live-fire exercise, and the Russians backed down[7].

In conclusion, the conspiracy theories created about this military base are nothing new and of course they will not be the last we hear. Moscow, Tehran, and Damascus have repeatedly accused the US of training Islamic State fighters at the al-Tanf garrison in Syria, but all they’ve been able to do is complain about it. In reality, the base disrupts the flow of weapons from Iraq to Syria. Also, the U.S. Military base in Syria, will continue to be a stability factor in the eyes of Russia and Iran.

Meral Musli Tajroska – Psychologist, Consultant on violent extremism and radicalization, activist for gender equality.








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