WASHINGTON – The United States military has begun building a new base in northeast Syria, according to local reports.
The new U.S. military base reportedly is located in the city of Hasakah, one of the largest cities in Syria’s northeast.
A local reporter told VOA that the U.S. maintains another base outside the city, “but this is the first time that U.S. forces have begun building a base in the city center.”
“The U.S. flag is now raised over a building,” said journalist Jindar Berekat, who lives in Hasakah, adding that “it is not clear how many American soldiers will be stationed at this location, but their armored military vehicles are here and it looks like they are still constructing parts of it.”
The base was previously occupied by Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a local military alliance that has been a major U.S. partner in the fight against the Islamic State (IS) terror group.
It is located near a major prison that holds hundreds of IS fighters. The SDF says it currently holds about 2,000 IS foreign fighters and 12,000 IS-affiliated women and children.
Hasakah is largely controlled by Syrian Kurdish fighters, but Syrian government and Russian forces have a significant military presence in the city as well.
A senior SDF commander confirmed to VOA that U.S. troops in fact have been dispatched to a new location inside the city of Hasakah.
“While the Americans have had a presence in Hasakah, the construction of this base is probably part of their redeployment strategy in northeast Syria,” said the Kurdish commander, who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media about such matters.
U.S. military officials have not commented on these reports.
The move comes as tensions continue to grow between U.S. and Russian troops in the Kurdish-majority region.
On several occurrences recently, U.S. forces have prevented Russian military convoys from carrying out patrol missions in northeast Syria.
U.S. forces were in control of most of northeast Syria until October, when the Turkish military and its allied Syrian militants launched a campaign against the U.S.-backed SDF.Since then, Russian forces and the Syrian government have entered the border region between Turkey and northeast Syria with the aim of filling the area evacuated by U.S. forces.
“Many here believe that the building of a U.S. base inside Hasakah could be a response to the growing Russian presence in the city,” said Alav Hussein, a local reporter who closely follows military developments in the region.
He told VOA that according to local military sources, “this new center [is being built] with the aim of observing Russian forces in Hasakah.”
There are still about 500 troops in the area who, according to U.S. officials, are protecting the region’s oil fields and preventing IS from reemerging.
Last month, U.S. forces reportedly expanded another military base, which is located on the strategic M4 highway that stretches from the northern Syrian city of Aleppo in the west to the Iraqi border in the east.