Politico

Russia, U.S. trade blame over armored vehicle skirmish in Syria


A top Russian general is blaming the U.S. military for a clash in northeast Syria this week that injured four U.S. service members, claiming that American troops attempted to block a Russian patrol “in breach of the existing agreements,” according to the Russian embassy.

The Russian account of the incident contrasts sharply with a Wednesday statement from the White House, which blamed Russia for ramming the vehicle carrying coalition troops.

U.S. military officials did not immediately return a request for comment on the new accusation. The Pentagon has not publicly commented on the incident since videos of the encounter between Russian and coalition armored vehicles emerged on social media on Wednesday.

Russian Chief of the General Staff Gen. Valery Gerasimov spoke with Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley by phone about the Tuesday incident, the Russian embassy wrote in a Facebook post on Thursday, citing Russian presidential spokesperson Dmitry Peskov.

During the conversation, Gerasimov told Milley that coalition commanders were notified in advance about the passage of the Russian military through the area, according to the post.

Gerasimov accused the U.S. military of breaching existing agreements and informed Milley that U.S. service members attempted to block the Russian patrol, which “took every step necessary to prevent the incident and proceed with its mission.”

A Pentagon spokesperson said on Wednesday that Milley had spoken with his Russian counterpart, but did not disclose details of the conversation.

Four U.S. troops were diagnosed with mild concussion-like symptoms after the clash, according to a person familiar with the incident.

In a statement, National Security Council spokesperson John Ullyot said the incident occurred when a routine security patrol encountered Russian troops near Dayrick in northeast Syria. A Russian vehicle struck a coalition vehicle, injuring its crew, he said, adding that the coalition patrol then left the area “to de-escalate the situation.”

Ullyot condemned the Russian actions as “unsafe and unprofessional,” and said they “represent a breach of de-confliction protocols, committed to by the United States and Russia in December 2019.”

“The Coalition and the United States do not seek escalation with any national military forces, but U.S. forces always retain the inherent right and obligation to defend themselves from hostile acts,” Ullyot said.

U.S. lawmakers slammed the Trump administration’s handling of the incident on Wednesday. Sen. Tammy Duckworth, a Democratic member of the Armed Services Committee, called on the president to “speak out against Vladimir Putin and demand answers as to why his troops are harassing and injuring our troops in Syria.”

In a joint statement issued Wednesday, a group of House lawmakers pressed the Pentagon and the White House to “clearly communicate to the highest levels of the Russian government and military that actions like this will not be tolerated.”

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