US says Russia violating 'de-confliction' in eastern Syria

There is a pattern of Russian harassment of US forces, leading to increased tensions between the two.

A US military vehicle is pictured behind the Turkish border walls during a joint US-Turkey patrol in northern Syria, 2019 (photo credit: MURAD SEZER/REUTERS)
A US military vehicle is pictured behind the Turkish border walls during a joint US-Turkey patrol in northern Syria, 2019
(photo credit: MURAD SEZER/REUTERS)
Russians are violating “de-confliction” protocols, the spokesman for the Coalition against ISIS said on Thursday.
A video that emerged on Wednesday showed a US patrol in eastern Syria, and Russian military vehicles trying to pass the US convoy. The Russian vehicle appeared to swerve to get around the American vehicle and a civilian had to jump out of the way.
“On February 19, 2020, a Russian patrol violated the de-confliction protocols and did not adhere to the de-confliction measures, and was escorted out of the area of U.S. operations,” Col. Myles B. Caggins, Spokesman for Combined Joint Task Force, Operation Inherent  Resolve, told The Jerusalem Post in a written statement.
He added: “Coalition forces seek to de-conflict our movements through pre-existing communication channels, in order to prevent unnecessary and unplanned military interactions, and de-escalate between forces when necessary. Russian patrols routinely violate de-confliction protocols. Overall, most interactions remain professional and controlled.”
The incident comes after several other incidents in eastern Syria in which US forces appear to have been harassed or interdicted. On February 12, US forces were fired upon by AK-47s and small arms in a village near Qamishli in Eastern Syria. Over the last month before that there were other reports of two incidents involving US and Russian forces.
The US withdrew from part of northern Syria in October 2019. A subsequent Turkish invasion and attacks on the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, led Russia and the Syrian regime to sign a deal with Turkey.
The US has remained in part of eastern Syria to secure oil fields and continue fighting ISIS. One oil field is near Rmeilan not far from Hasakah and Qamishli. Russian forces patrol in the same areas where there is overlap near Qamishli and the M-4 road that runs parallel to the Syrian-Turkish border.
The US-led Coalition said that “US and Russian interactions in northeast Syria are occurring at a steady rate. Our de-confliction protocols provide separation between our operations in a professional and controlled manner.”  However the video of the US patrol trying to drive while Russian vehicles try to pass it paints a picture of tensions or harassment.
“US patrols move to encounter Russian patrols that violate the de-confliction protocols in order to keep them a safe distance from Coalition areas of operations. Russian patrols routinely violate de-confliction protocols. Overall, most interactions remain professional and controlled,” the Coalition says.
The question now is whether other tensions in Idlib in Syria, where Russia and the Syrian regime are clashing with Turkey and Syrian opposition forces, could spillover to tensions in eastern Syria. The Syrian regime might want a distraction or Russia might want to continue to show it is somehow standing up to the US.
This is part of a global context in which Russian and US forces have come into close proximity. In 2017 Russian fighter jets buzzed a US ship in the Black Sea. In June 2019 the USS Chancellorsville said a Russian ship maneuvered dangerously  close. In January 2020 the USS Farragut reported that a Russian navy ship “aggressively approached” it in the Northern Arabian Sea.