A displaced Syrian child uses a broom in the camp "Hope" in Kafaldin on the Syrian Turkish border, on September 13, 2018. / AFP / OMAR HAJ KADOUR
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A Syrian rebel commander said Thursday rare military exercises with U.S. marines in southern Syria sent a strong message to Russia and Iran that the United States and the rebels intend to stay and confront any threats to their presence.Col. Muhanad al-Talaa, commander of the Pentagon-backed Maghawir al-Thawra group, told Reuters the eight days of drills that ended this week at the U.S. military outpost in Al-Tanf were the first such exercises with live-fire air and ground assault, involving hundreds of U.S. troops and rebel fighters.Russia and the Syrian government have repeatedly called on Washington to pull out its troops from Al-Tanf base, where it has declared a 55-kilometer-radius "deconfliction zone" off-limits to others. Rebels say hundreds of U.S. marines arrived this month in Al-Tanf to join special operations troops already based in the garrison and participate in the drills, amid heightened U.S.-Russian tensions in Syria and a naval buildup in the Mediterranean.failure to end its military presence in Syria could provoke a U.S. military response, Talaa added.
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