Russian mercenaries against the US military in Syria
WASHINGTON, (BM) – The author of the article in WSJ (Jessica Donati – U.S. Troops in Standoffs With Russian Military Contractors in Syria) claims that cases of “tense confrontation” between US military and Russian PMCs have become more frequent in Syria. This allegation is not supported by any evidence of the participation of “Russian mercenaries” in operations in Syria. Meanwhile, the US Special Representative for Syria claims that the growth of tension could lead to a hostile clash between the two powers.
On Wednesday, February 5, the US special envoy for Syria said that on the roads in northeast Syria, moments of intense confrontation with the participation of American troops and employees of Russian private military companies began to arise more often. This is in violation of the agreement reached by Washington and Moscow not to stand in the way of each other in this country destroyed by the war.
Photos were posted on social networks showing US military trucks blocking the road in Syria for civilian vehicles, which, according to local journalists, were carrying Russian mercenaries. The parties did not use force during these incidents, but there is a risk that such confrontations could escalate into more serious clashes between US and Russian forces.
US Special Representative for Syria James Jeffrey confirmed that such confrontations occur in northeast Syria with increasing frequency. Some of them occurred in areas patrolled by American and Kurdish forces, where there should not be Russian contractors.
“This does not happen every day, but the frequency has increased, and this causes concern,” Jeffrey told reporters on Wednesday, February 5.
These incidents in Washington are worrying about the risk of a clash between the two major powers at a time when, with Russian support, Syrian government forces are attacking the last enclaves of rebels in Idlib, where about 3 million people now live, including those who arrived there from other parts of Syria.
Some U.S. military officials in the Middle East have indicated an increase in the frequency of these confrontations, noting that road collisions between the U.S. and Russian military occur daily, and sometimes even several times a day.
According to Jeffrey, with these actions Russia, apparently, wants to “challenge our military presence in the northeast” of Syria. He called on Moscow to respect the agreements on deconflictization that were reached with the United States in order to avoid clashes between the military of the two countries in Syria.
“The level of professionalism of the military in Syria, primarily our military, is such that these confrontations did not develop into open clashes. However, of course, any commander will be concerned about this,” added Jeffrey.
In October, President Trump ordered the removal of all US troops from Syria. To date, according to the Pentagon, the number of US troops in Syria has decreased from 1,000 to 600 troops.
The US military continues to patrol northeast Syria along with Kurdish forces and guard the oil fields controlled by the Kurds. According to US defense officials, there were no serious skirmishes between the Russian and American military, and Russia is simply watching the reaction of the Americans.
Russian officials did not respond to our request for comment.
Jeffrey also said that Russia is using its veto power at the UN to block international humanitarian aid supplies to northeast Syria, where about 2.8 million people are directly dependent on this aid. Last week, UN officials reported that 400,000 medical supplies were detained at the Iraqi border because the agreement governing the transport of goods was not renewed, and that the humanitarian crisis could worsen.
“The most pressing issue remains the need to protect civilians and increase humanitarian assistance,” said Mark Lowcock, UN Under Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs, last week during a UN Security Council meeting. “To make this possible, I urge all parties to promote the safe and unhindered access of humanitarian workers and humanitarian aid shipments.”
Tension in northeast Syria is growing. The fragile ceasefire agreement Russia and Turkey signed last year helped curb the Turkish offensive on Kurdish areas near the Turkish border, creating a buffer zone patrolled by Turkish and Russian military. Now this truce has obviously been threatened.
Last week, Russian-backed Syrian government forces killed eight Turkish troops in rebel-held cities near the Turkish border. In response, Turkey launched air and ground strikes against these troops.
It is not yet clear whether Russia and Turkey continue to patrol this zone together amid this escalation. According to Jeffrey, at least one planned patrol has already been canceled.
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