The article below was originally published by the BBC on January 22nd, 2015. Image above courtesy of Stratfor.
Satellite imagery appearing to show the U.S. expanding a formerly disused air strip in Kurdish-controlled northern Syria has been seen by the BBC.
The images, from the security analysts Stratfor, show a runway near the town of Rmeilan being extended from 700m (half a mile) to 1.3km.
That would make it more suitable for a larger aircraft such as a Lockheed C-130 Hercules.
‘Occasional Logistical Support’
A spokesman for the U.S. Department of Defense said its small team in Syria needed “occasional logistical support”.
Kurdish and other rebel forces are fighting against the so-called Islamic State in that part of Syria. Rumours of U.S. military activity in the area have been circulating for weeks, Stratfor says.
Rmeilan is in Hassakeh province in the Kurdish-majority northeastern part of Syria. In October the U.S. dropped supply pallets containing more than 45 tonnes of ammunition to rebels in the province.
New Step Against ISIS
The imagery appears to confirm growing rumours over the past couple of days about the presence of a runway.
This development could signify a new approach by the Americans in support of their Kurdish allies in the war against the so-called Islamic State.
But it could trigger an angry reaction from major U.S. ally Turkey – which has long been worried about Kurdish ambitions on its southern border.
Kurds on All Fronts
Also, the runway’s closeness to Iraq’s second largest city, Mosul – currently under IS control – suggests that efforts to retake the city are at stake. It seems Kurds will be on the front lines, fighting for their historical ambition of a Kurdish state.
Access to a longer runway would facilitate U.S. deliveries of weapons to rebel forces in the area instead of depending on airdrops.
A US-led coalition of Western and Middle Eastern countries began air strikes against IS in Iraq in August 2014 and in Syria a month later. Kurdish-led forces took control of parts of Hasakah province in November.[To read more, visit the BBC]