One of Russia’s highest ranking military leaders has accused the U.S. of using its base in Syria to train fighters of the Islamic State militant group (ISIS), further destabilizing the war-torn country for which Moscow has led peace talks.

General of the Army Valery Gerasimov, chief of the Russian military’s general staff and deputy defense minister, said Wednesday that the U.S. was gathering defeated ISIS fighters in order to regroup the militants under a new banner and challenge the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who Russia has backed in his fight against insurgents and jihadis attempting to overthrow him since 2011. Citing satellite intelligence and other sources, Gerasimov claimed the U.S. had moved up to 400 fighters from the Kurd-controlled city of Al-Shaddadi in the northeast to the U.S.’s self-proclaimed de-confliction zone in the southern region of Al-Tanf.

Related: Christmas in Syria: Rebels attack Assad victory party in Aleppo, but win little as peace process begins

“They are in reality being trained there,” Gerasimov told Russian daily Komsomolskaya Pravda in remarks translated by Reuters.

“They are practically Islamic State,” he added. “But after they are worked with, they change their spots and take on another name. Their task is to destabilize the situation.”


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