“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 a statement, the Defense Department’s first public comments about Tuesday’s incident.
“We have advised the Russians that their behavior was dangerous and unacceptable. 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,” he added.
Russia’s Defense Ministry had issued a statement of its own earlier on Thursday blaming the US military for the incident and saying the event had been the subject of a Wednesday phone call between Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley and his counterpart, Chief of the Russian General Staff Gen. Valery Gerasimov.
The Russian statement claimed the US had been notified of the movements of the Russian convoy and that the collision had occurred after the US troops tried to block the Russian patrol.
But US Central Command, which oversees US military operations, insisted that the US military had not received advance notice of the Russian troop movements.
“The Russians did not use established deconfliction measures to request passage of a Russian convoy through the Eastern Syria Security Area (ESSA) near Dayrick on August 25,” Central Command spokesman Capt. William Urban said in a statement.
He said the “Russian convoy encountered a joint U.S.-SDF patrol following their unauthorized incursion” and “proceeded to aggressively and recklessly pursue the Coalition convoy including a sideswipe of a U.S. vehicle and the extremely low level overflight by a Russian helicopter, which resulted in seven U.S. Soldiers receiving injuries that were evaluated and treated after the Coalition convoy returned to base.”
The military said all seven US service members screened and treated for injuries had returned to duty.
“Injuries included mild concussive-type injuries, and muscular strains consistent with vehicular crashes,” Urban said, adding that “there is no expectation that any U.S. Soldiers will need to be medically evacuated from Syria at this time.”
US military personnel in Syria have often found themselves operating in close proximity to Russian troops who are backing the Syrian regime, but this is believed to be the first time US troops have been injured in an encounter with Russian forces.
While officials with the US-led coalition have publicly described those interactions as largely professional, touting the existence of deconfliction mechanisms with Russia, the number of encounters has increased as Russian forces moved into areas that were ceded by the US and its local Syrian allies following the Trump administration’s decision to pull back forces from the Syrian-Turkish border.
Moscow has long protested the presence of US troops in Syria, where they primarily work with the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces to combat the remnants of ISIS.