US, Russia trade blame after American troops injured in Syria
The United States and Russia traded blame Thursday for an incident earlier in the week in Syria that injured several U.S. troops.
In its first official statement on the issue, the Pentagon on Thursday said Russia engaged in “deliberately provocative and aggressive behavior” when a Russian military vehicle collided with a U.S. military vehicle, injuring the U.S. troops.
“On Tuesday, Russian forces breached our deconfliction arrangement in Syria and injured U.S. service members with their deliberately provocative and aggressive behavior,” chief Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said in the statement.
“We have advised the Russians that their behavior was dangerous and unacceptable,” he added. “We expect a return to routine and professional deconfliction in Syria and reserve the right to defend our forces vigorously whenever their safety is put at risk.”
Earlier on Thursday, officials in Russia said the U.S. military was to blame for the confrontation.
Russia’s Defense Ministry said in a statement that Chief of the General Staff Gen. Valery Gerasimov told Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley in a call this week that the Russians notified the U.S.-led military coalition in Syria about the patrol in advance in accordance with the deconfliction agreement.
But, the ministry said Gerasimov told Milley, U.S. troops tried to block the patrol, which “took every step necessary to prevent the incident and proceed with its mission.”
Milley’s office announced the call Wednesday, but said the pair agreed not to disclose the contents “in accordance with past practice.”
At issue is an encounter that happened Tuesday morning in northeast Syria.
Politico first reported the incident Wednesday, and the National Security Council confirmed it later Wednesday.
Video apparently showing the encounter had emerged on social media earlier Wednesday. In the videos, a Russian vehicle is seen ramming into a U.S. vehicle, and a Russian helicopter is seen flying low over U.S. forces.
During a routine patrol of the U.S.-led anti-ISIS coalition, a Russian military vehicle hit a coalition armored vehicle, injuring the crew, National Security Council spokesman John Ullyot said in Wednesday’s statement.
The situation was de-escalated when the U.S.-led coalition patrol left the area, Ullyot said.
In Thursday’s statement, Hoffman praised the U.S. troops for their professionalism.
“We commend our personnel on the ground for de-escalating this unfortunate encounter through professionalism and restraint, which are hallmarks of the U.S. military,” he said.
While it is not uncommon for U.S. and Russian forces to encounter each other on the road in Syria, Pentagon officials have said those earlier encounters were largely professional.
The United States has about 500 troops in Syria, mostly in the northeast, where they are helping local forces fight remnants of ISIS.
President Trump has repeatedly tried to withdraw from Syria but backtracked amid fierce bipartisan pushback. He has said the troops remain in Syria to protect oil.