The US military accused Russia on Thursday of blocking the delivery of critical aid to the Rukban refugee camp in Syria, a desert camp that the United Nations has described for months as in a “desperate” situation.
“Russia has again refused to support a UN delivery of humanitarian assistance from Damascus to the Rukban internally displaced persons camp despite US security guarantees,” US Navy Capt. Bill Urban, a spokesman for US Central Command, told CNN in a statement.
“Counter to the false claims made to the United Nations by Russia, conditions are ripe for this critical aid to be delivered to the people of Rukban, where conditions remain dire,” he added.
The camp sits within the 20-square-mile de-confliction zone that surrounds the US base in Al Tanf, Syria, which was established by the Russians and the US-led coalition to prevent the two sides from coming into accidental contact.
On Wednesday, Russia’s Ministry of Defense accused the US of intentionally blocking aid from reaching the inhabitants of Rukban in a bid to attract recruits to the Maghawir Al-Thawra, or MaT, a local group of fighters the US trains to fight ISIS.
Russia and its Iranian and Syrian regime allies have long sought to expel the US from Al Tanf, and US officials believe that pro-regime forces have sought to use aid as leverage to help bring an end to the American presence there.
US troops and US-backed forces in Al Tanf have in the past clashed with pro-regime forces, including militias aligned with Iran, which maintain a presence near the US base, in an area close to strategic roads near the borders of Iraq and Jordan.
Gen. Joseph Votel, the head of Central Command, visited Al Tanf last month, where he acknowledged the base’s role in defeating ISIS and its “indirect impact in making Iranian malign activities in Syria more difficult.”
While the US military has long said it is focused on defeating ISIS, senior Trump administration officials have said the US should maintain a presence in Syria to curb Iran’s presence.