US soldiers injured in vehicle collision in eastern Syria

Russia tries to intimidate America in Syria using vehicles, helicopters and social media.

SYRIAN DEMOCRATIC FORCES and US troops are seen during a patrol near Turkish border in Hasakah, Syria, in November. (photo credit: RODI SAID / REUTERS)
SYRIAN DEMOCRATIC FORCES and US troops are seen during a patrol near Turkish border in Hasakah, Syria, in November.
(photo credit: RODI SAID / REUTERS)
US soldiers have been injured in an escalation with Russian forces in Syria. This is one of many incidents involving US patrols in eastern Syria being harassed by Russian forces.
These confrontations are often filmed by Russians or by Syrian regime members on the ground or others and appear to be designed to embarrass the US by showing that Moscow is able to derail US patrols in Syria by either running their vehicles off the road or now harassing them with helicopters. 
The White House, unusually in this instance, put out a statement by National Security Council spokesman John Ullyot, saying that, “at approximately 10 a.m. (Syria Time), August 25, a routine Defeat-ISIS Coalition security patrol encountered a Russian military patrol near Dayrick, in northeast Syria. During this interaction, a Russian vehicle struck a Coalition Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected All-Terrain Vehicle (M-ATV) causing injuries to the vehicle’s crew.” The site of the incident was in a town called in Arabic Al-Malikiyah but called Derrick or Dayrick in Kurdish. 
The US operates patrols in eastern Syria. Since October 2019, Washington has said it shifted its efforts to secure oil fields in eastern Syria, after withdrawing from an area along the border with Turkey. The US in Syria has backed the Syrian Democratic Forces, a group of fighters who defeated ISIS in Raqqa in 2017. The SDF was spearheaded by Kurdish fighters and has grown to include Arabs, Christians and other groups.
However the US-led coalition that is fighting ISIS – and has helped arm and train some 80,000 SDF fighters – is facing a crossroads in Iraq and Syria. In Iraq, the Coalition left the large Taji base and a half dozen other smaller bases in six months as tensions with Iranian-backed groups grew and rocket attacks against US forces became a weekly threat.
In Syria, the US seems to have a new company doing an oil deal but the Trump administration is unclear about a long-term commitment. President Donald Trump says he wants to end “endless wars” in what he calls far-away places. He told West Point military academy graduates in June that America was reticent to continue its role in these places. 

ENTER THE Russians into the equation. Moscow, sensing that the US wants to leave, is seeking to pressure it in Syria the way Iran pressures it in Iraq. Russia already has agreements with Turkey to partition parts of northern Syria and is selling Ankara its S-400 system. Turkey got the US to leave the border areas in October 2019, and now Russia hopes to muscle the US out of other areas. The Russian footprint in Syria is small, with a handful of vehicles in eastern Syria, but the US footprint is also small. So their  contingents do a game of cat-and-mouse with these patrols.
Washington says it wants to “de-escalate the situation” and that after the recent confrontation, the “coalition patrol departed the area.” For Moscow, this likely looks like a propaganda win. It tends to send people to video these incidents on ride-alongs, hoping to capture an incident with the US that will make it look weak or embarrassed. That could mean showing pro-Syrian regime protesters confronting American forces, or showing a helicopter harassing a patrol.
The US has said that its patrol faced “unsafe and unprofessional actions like this” which “represent a breach of de-confliction protocols, committed to by the United States and Russia in December 2019.” The US says its forces “retain the inherent right and obligation to defend themselves from hostile acts. The international coalition’s mission in northeast Syria is to ensure the enduring defeat of ISIS.”
However, it took Washington a long time to issue this statement, which was put out to represent how seriously the White House takes this situation. This time, there were injuries, unlike in the past. Images of a Russian helicopter harassing the US patrol have been on social media since August 26. Video also shows the Russian and US vehicles chasing each other through a field. The US chairman of the Joint Chiefs also spoke to his Russian counterpart. Although the US provided no details of the conversation, it appears to relate to Syria. 

THE INJURIES could cause more tension with Russia but could also just as likely lead to a quiet agreement to reduce these clashes of patrols for a period of time. Moscow has a way of pushing the envelope on various issues in Syria, often in concert with Turkey even when they seem to be at odds. Its goal is to appear stronger than it is, using just a few vehicles with the Russian flag to illustrate its commitment to the Syrian regime and securing areas in Syria.
The clash with the Russians comes amid a visit to Turkey this week by US Syria envoy James Jeffrey, who is pro-Turkey. At the same time, the US State Department has sidelined its own SDF partners from any meetings, as part of a diplomatic process to end the Syrian conflict. While Jeffrey claims the Syrian opposition includes voices from eastern Syria, it appears that Kurdish voices have been systematically discriminated against due to pressure from Ankara.
Turkey claims the SDF is linked to the Kurdish PKK which it calls a terrorist group. Some American voices want the US to withdraw from eastern Syria, arguing that the successful war on ISIS and work with the Kurds was part of an Obama-era policy that should be ditched. Others fear that if the US leaves, the Syrian regime will enter the vacuum.


Tags Syria Russia