Jerusalem post reported that "Over two consecutive nights, rumors of airstrikes by the US against pro-Syrian regime forces in eastern Syria have led to false reports and denials. The frequency of the reports points to attempts by different actors in the conflict to create tensions between not only Iran and the US but also between the Syrian regime and the Syrian Democratic Forces, which are backed by Iran and the US respectively."
The reports are laundered via various publications and spread on social media. For instance Al-Masdar News, which is generally supportive of the Syrian regime, claimed on Tuesday night that the “US plotting to expel Syrian army, IRGC from key border town.”
The report is based on another report in Al-Watan which claims that “these forces will attempt to expel the Syrian Arab Army and Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps from the key border town of Albukamal and large town of Al-Maydeen in rural Deir Ezzor.”
On the night of April 22 social media accounts reported airstrikes near Deir Ez zor. Soon the Syrian military had reportedly had to deny that there was a “US attack on IRGC.” The report, also from Al-Masdar, noted that “all reports claiming the US air force bombed the IRGC near Albukamal are false." The source said reports claiming the SDF and SAA clashed near Albukamal are false. The clashes actually involved ISIS fighting with the Syrian regime. Yet the reports of US “plots” go back several days, seeking to fuel tensions along the Euphrates river where the US and SDF are stationed on one side, and Syrian regime and pro-Iranian militias on the other.
The area near Albukamal is a restive and sensitive area. The SDF, with backing from the US-led Coalition defeated ISIS in Baghouz, just across the river from Albukamal, in late March. The SDF and the US clashed with pro-Syrian regime militias last year near Deir Ezzor after militias tried to grab control of an oil field in February 2018. In addition in the summer of 2018 an airstrike hit a group of Kata’ib Hezbollah, fueling accusations the US had targeted the Iraqi-based pro-Iranian militia.
Since the US left the Iran Deal and began exerting pressure on Tehran via sanctions there have been tensions between the US and pro-Iranian groups in Syria and Iraq. This includes the Hashd al-Shaabi (PMU), a group of mostly Shi’ite paramilitaries in Iraq that are now part of the Iraqi Security Forces. They have harassed US soldiers in Anbar province and near Mosul in the last several months. In addition some militias in the Hashd have openly threatened the US. This includes Asaib Ahl al-Haq and Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba. Harakat Hezbollah was listed as a terrorist organization in March by the US. The US has warned that any attack by pro-Iranian groups in Iraq would lead the US to hold Tehran responsible.
The area of Albukamal is also sensitive because ISIS is present there. Even after its defeat, its cells move back and forth, striking the Syrian regime and SDF. Iran carried out a ballistic missile strike on ISIS near Albukamal in October 2018, not far from US forces. In addition the US had claimed it was leaving Syria in December 2018, only to reverse the policy.