Russia on Thursday blamed the United States for a tense confrontation in Syria in which Russian military vehicles and helicopters surrounded U.S. armored vehicles, leaving U.S. troops injured.
The White House National Security Council (NSC) said in a statement that a Russian vehicle struck a U.S. mine-resistant all-terrain vehicle, “causing injuries to the vehicle’s crew.”
Russia’s Defense Ministry released a statement saying that it had warned the Defeat-ISIS Coalition in advance that a column of its military police would pass through.
“In spite of this, in breach of the existing agreements the U.S. troops attempted to block the Russian patrol” it said, adding that Russian military police took “necessary measures” to end the incident and carry on their mission.
The chief of the Russian General Staff, Valery Gerasimov, gave “full explanations” in a phone call with General Mark Milley, the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Moscow said.
Videos shared on Twitter, apparently filmed by bystanders and the Russians themselves, appear to show Russian troop carriers and attack helicopters trying to box the U.S. vehicles in and then force them from the area, near Dayrick.
Vehicles appear to bump each other, and at one point – possibly at the beginning of the confrontation – one of the helicopters hovers very low over the halted Americans, blasting them with prop wash.
There were no details available from the NSC or Pentagon on how many crew were injured and what the extent of the injuries were.
National Security Council spokesman John Ullyot said the U.S. vehicles were a security patrol of the anti-Islamic State coalition.
He said the patrol departed the area to de-escalate the situation.
“Unsafe and unprofessional actions like this represent a breach of de-confliction protocols, committed to by the United States and Russia in December 2019,” said Ullyot.
“The coalition and the United States do not seek escalation with any national military forces, but U.S. forces always retain the inherent right and obligation to defend themselves from hostile acts.”
U.S. and Russian troops frequently interact in Syria, but confrontations have been rare.
Russia Bolsters Military Police Presence in Northern Syria Amid Fighting Flare-Up
Russia has sent additional military police units to the Raqqa province of northern Syria amid a flare-up in fighting between rebel groups there, the Kommersant business daily reported Monday, citing a top Russian official in Syria.
Russia, a close ally of the Syrian government in Damascus, maintains a military presence in northeastern Syria, one of the last rebel holdouts in the country’s decade-long civil war, along with Turkey, which supports rebel factions. Shelling between Turkish-backed rebel groups and the opposition Syrian Democratic Forces broke out in the town of Ayn Issa this month, prompting mass civilian displacement and criticism of Russia’s inaction.
Rear Admiral Vyacheslav Sytnik, deputy head of the Russian Center for the Reconciliation of Warring Parties in Syria, said that additional Russian military police units were deployed to Ayn Issa in an effort to stabilize the fighting.
“Additional units of the Russian military police have arrived in the Ayn Issa area of the Raqqa province to step up efforts to stabilize the situation. We call on the parties conducting mutual shelling to stop the escalation,” Kommersant cited Sytnik as saying in a statement.
Russia is in agreement with Turkey on the deployment of Russian-Syrian posts, Sytnik added.
Earlier this month, Moscow, Damascus and the Syrian Democratic Forces agreed to establish three joint posts in the Raqqa province.
Kommersant cited Arab media reports as saying that the Russian military hopes to convince the Syrian Democratic Forces to transfer part of the areas they control to Damascus as Ankara strengthens its positions on Syrian territory.