Russia has warned the United States that its military will target areas where U.S. Special Forces are operating in Syria if it feels American-backed forces provoke it.
Moscow issued the warning Thursday after saying its own forces had come under fire twice from the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). The majority Kurdish force has been fighting alongside U.S. Special Forces to retake Raqqa, the Islamic State militant group's (ISIS) de facto capital.
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Russia’s Ministry of Defense said mortars had been fired at its own special forces from positions held by U.S. troops and the SDF on the eastern banks of the Euphrates.
“A representative of the U.S. military command in [the U.S. operations center in Qatar] was told in no uncertain terms that any attempts to open fire from areas where SDF fighters are located would be quickly shut down,” Defense Ministry Spokesman Igor Konashenkov said in a statement reported by Russian state news agency Tass.
“Fire points in those areas will be immediately suppressed with all military means,” the statement added.
The meeting of the Russian and U.S.-backed offensives near Deir Ezzor has escalated tensions between the two sides in eastern Syria. Russia backs the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad, while the U.S. has backed the SDF, a coalition of mostly Kurdish paramilitary brigades, in its own fight against ISIS in the area.
The SDF said on Saturday that it had come under attack from Syrian Army troops supported by Russian aircraft. Russia has denied being involved in any such action. The U.S.-backed militia warned Monday that any further attempts to advance on the eastern Euphrates would be met with retaliation.
Russia’s Defense Ministry has suggested SDF-held dams further up the Euphrates have been deliberately opened to impede the Syrian Army’s advances and has questioned whether any fighting is taken place between the majority Kurdish force and ISIS.
According to the spokesman quoted by Tass, 85 percent of Deir-Ezzor is now under regime control, adding that it expects the city to be liberated from ISIS forces within a week. The Russian Ministry of Defense also praised the effectiveness of the Syrian army’s advance while criticizing the U.S.-backed offensive in Raqqa, which it said had stalled.
The SDF has said, contradicting Russian statements, that it is in the final stages of its assault to liberate Raqqa and now holds 80 per cent of the the territory in the city.
A media official for the paramilitary group told Reuters between 700 to 1,000 ISIS fighters remained in the city.
Russia’s intervention in Syria in September 2015 on the side of the beleaguered regime of Bashar al-Assad changed the fortunes of the government in Damascus, which, at the time, was on the verge of defeat by rebel forces.
The U.S. intervened directly against Assad following the Syrian military’s chemical weapons attack on the town of Khan Sheikhoun in the country’s north western Idlib province in April this year. President Donald Trump approved the launch of 59 cruise missiles targeting Syrian government military installations following the attack.
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