The US has alleged a Russian armoured car rammed a US military vehicle, injuring American soldiers, in what the White House called “unsafe and unprofessional” behaviour when patrols from the two countries’ militaries confronted each other in north-eastern Syria.
According to the US national security council (NSC), the incident took place on Tuesday morning near a location it described as “Dayrick”, a possible reference to Derik, near the Turkish and Iraqi borders.
“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,” NSC spokesman John Ullyot said.
“To de-escalate the situation, the Coalition patrol departed the area. Unsafe and unprofessional actions like this represent a breach of de-confliction protocols, committed to by the United States and Russia in December 2019.”
According to Politico, which first reported the incident, citing a draft military statement, four American soldiers were diagnosed with mild concussion.
National Public Radio said six US soldiers had suffered mild concussion but none had been medevacked.
NPR said Russian interference with US convoys had been increasing for months with no public statements from the US military.
Video of the purported incident on the Russian website RusVesna.su shows a Russian vehicle advancing along a road and the open field alongside it before two US mine-resistant ambush protected (MRAP) vehicles approach them from the other direction. A Russian and US vehicle appear to collide, though it is not clear from the video who is to blame. In another video, two Russian helicopters can be seen hovering low over the scene.
Russians troops have been patrolling the area following an agreement with Turkey in November. US troops who were fighting alongside Kurdish forces against the Islamic State were ordered to leave by Donald Trump in October, but he later declared he had allowed some soldiers to remain to guard oil installations in the region. Since then a Delaware-based company, Delta Crescent Energy, agreed with Kurdish authorities in the area to rehabilitate the local oilfields.
“The Coalition and the United States do not seek escalation with any national military forces, but US forces always retain the inherent right and obligation to defend themselves from hostile acts,” Ullyot said in his statement.
As US troops pulled out of US bases near the Turkish border, Russian troops moved in and now control a US-built airstrip in the region.
Brett McGurk, the former US special envoy to the anti-Isis coalition, said on Twitter: “These incidents have been ongoing for months. Trump has apparently never raised the issue in multiple calls with Putin. He leaves our troops to fend for themselves.”
Gil Barndollar, a senior fellow at the Center for Defense Priorities, said: “This incident underscores the dangers continually confronting US troops in Syria, who are armed bystanders in the midst of a civil war. Playing bumper cars with Russians in the Levant serves no vital US national interest. As in numerous past incidents, America was lucky not to lose a soldier in a wholly unnecessary confrontation.”
In February, one man was killed in an exchange of fire after a US armoured convoy approached a checkpoint manned by Syrian forces loyal to Bashar al-Assad. A Syria man was killed in the incident, in which Russian forces became involved when they arrived in an apparent effort to mediate.