January 25, 2016 / 5:48 PM / 2 years ago

Syria's U.S.-backed rebel alliance expanding landing field for non-combat goals: spokesman

BEIRUT (Reuters) - A U.S.-backed alliance of Syrian Arab and Kurdish fighters is expanding the landing field of an agricultural airport in eastern Syria with the purpose of using it to receive humanitarian aid in the future, a spokesman said on Monday.

Last week, several reports surfaced, including from the Syrian Observatory for Human rights, saying that U.S. special forces and experts were expanding the air base of Rmeilan in Syria’s Hasaka province in order to use it in the battle against Islamic State insurgents. The Pentagon denied the reports.

But Talal Selo, spokesman for the Syria Democratic Forces, a U.S.-backed rebel group in Syria’s civil war, said that the reports were false and that the alliance was working on expanding the landing area for non-combat purposes.

“This is an agricultural airport from the days of the regime, we are currently just expanding its landing field so that we can benefit from it in having planes landing (to deliver) humanitarian aid or reconstruction material,” he told Reuters.

The Observatory said last week that the airport was being converted to a helicopter pad and will also be used as base for up to 50 special operations troops deployed in Syria in the past few months to coordinate on the ground with U.S.-backed rebels fighting to oust President Bashar al-Assad.

“The U.S. military has not taken control of any airfields in Syria. Our location and our troop strength remains small,” Air Force Colonel Patrick Ryder, a spokesman for U.S. Central Command, told reporters on Friday.

“That being said, U.S. forces in Syria are consistently looking for ways to increase efficiency for logistics and personnel recovery support.”

Reporting by Tom Perry; Writing by Mariam Karouny; Editing by Mark Heinrich

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