Amman: A Syrian rebel commander said on Thursday that rare military exercises with US marines in southern Syria sent a strong message to Russia and Iran, that the Americans and the rebels intend to stay and confront any threats to their presence.

Colonel Muhanad Al Talaa, commander of the Pentagon-backed Maghawir Al Thawra group, told Reuters the eight-day drills that ended this week at the US military outpost in Al Tanf were the first such exercises with live-fire air and ground assault, involving hundreds of US troops and rebel fighters.

“These exercises have a big importance, have beefed up the area’s defences, raised combat capabilities and morale and that of civilians in the area,” Talaa told Reuters by phone from Al Tanf, near Syria’s borders with Jordan and Iraq.