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US beefs up force protection in Syria after run-in with Russia

US beefs up force protection in Syria after run-in with Russia
© CENTCOM/Michael West

The military has sent mechanized infantry and other new assets into Syria after a confrontation with Russian forces last month injured several U.S. troops

In a statement Friday, U.S. Central Command (Centcom) announced it had deployed Bradley Fighting Vehicles and Sentinel radar, as well as increased the frequency of fighter jet patrols over U.S. forces, in order “to help ensure the safety and security of coalition forces.”

“These actions are a clear demonstration of U.S. resolve to defend coalition forces in the [Eastern Syria Security Area], and to ensure that they are able to continue their defeat-ISIS mission without interference,” Centcom spokesman Capt. Bill Urban said in a statement. “The United States does not seek conflict with any other nation in Syria, but will defend coalition forces if necessary.”

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Operation Inherent Resolve, the U.S.-led coalition fighting ISIS, said the mechanized forces come from the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division, from Fort Bliss, Texas. The unit was already deployed to Kuwait.

“The mechanized infantry assets will help ensure the force protection of coalition forces in an increasingly complex operating environment in northeast Syria,” coalition spokesman Col. Wayne Marotto said in a statement. “The coalition forces remain steadfast in our commitment of ensuring the enduring defeat of Daesh.”

The new deployment comes as President TrumpDonald John TrumpNearly 300 former national security officials sign Biden endorsement letter DC correspondent on the death of Michael Reinoehl: 'The folks I know in law enforcement are extremely angry about it' Late night hosts targeted Trump over Biden 97 percent of the time in September: study MORE has been touting troop withdrawals from the Middle East as part of his reelection pitch, saying he is fulfilling his promise to wind down America's “endless” wars.

In Iraq, the U.S. military is drawing down to from 5,200 service members to roughly 3,000 by the end of September. In Afghanistan, officials have said they expect to drop from about 8,600 to 4,500 service members by November. 

Trump has repeatedly tried to withdraw from Syria but backtracked amid fierce bipartisan pushback. Officially, about 500 U.S. troops remain.

“We are out of Syria other than we kept the oil,” Trump said at a White House news conference Friday around the same time as the military announced the new deployment. “I kept the oil. And we have troops guarding the oil. Other than that we are out of Syria.”

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The U.S. military previously deployed Bradley Fighting Vehicles to Syria last year.

The latest deployment comes after seven U.S. service members were injured last month when a Russian military vehicle sideswiped a U.S. military vehicle on the road in northeast Syria.

After the incident, the Pentagon accused Russia of “deliberately provocative and aggressive behavior,” including breaching a deconfliction agreement.

Russia, for its part, blamed the United States for the incident, saying U.S. troops had tried to block its patrol.

Russian forces are in the country are propping up Syrian President Bashar Assad, while U.S. forces are helping local partners fight the remnants of ISIS.