(TMU) – The Department of Defense has ordered a troop deployment to Syria as tensions between the Russian military and U.S. troops has resulted in several encounters in the country, according to U.S. officials.
The Pentagon move to boost forces in the country is primarily a show of force meant to deter Russian forces, three U.S. defense officials told NBC News.
So far, the additional troops include six Bradley Fighting Vehicles and under 100 soldiers who are being rotated through Syria on 90-day deployments.
“These actions and reinforcements are a clear signal to Russia to adhere to mutual de-confliction processes and for Russia and other parties to avoid unprofessional, unsafe and provocative actions in northeast Syria,” said one official.
U.S. and Russian forces have frequently engaged in small confrontations and non-lethal incidents over the past several months, mainly at checkpoints and along the contested M4 highway in Syria.
Recent incidents, however, include a road incident involving Russian and coalition armored vehicles where U.S. forces allegedly attempted to block the Russians while a Russian helicopter hovered close to the ground. This resulted in a cat-and-mouse game where neither side relented, resulting in the Russians ramming a U.S. armored vehicle, injuring seven American troops.
While U.S. military officials accused Russia of intentionally inflicting “concussion-like” injuries on its troops, the Russian Defense Ministry maintained that its forces did what had to be done to prevent further escalation and continue going about their duty.
A longer video of the confrontation. US forces appear to be blocking a road and then attempt to block the path of the Russian patrol when they drive through the field. An American MaxxPro MRAP appears to collide with a Russian Typhoon-K MRAP. 319/https://t.co/iCliZSYVY9 pic.twitter.com/xZTtN6l0Ib
— Rob Lee (@RALee85) August 26, 2020
Gen. Frank McKenzie, the commander of U.S. Central Command, called the incident an example of poor professionalism and provocative behavior on the part of the Russians that “got us into a dangerous situation where a Russian ground patrol actually came into the eastern Syria security area, an area they were not authorized to be in.”
“We’re very lucky that our guys on the ground were able to keep that from turning into a larger incident,” he added. “That was a concerning moment. And had it gone another way, we might have been in trouble there and they might have been in trouble, too.”
On August 17, U.S. forces and their Kurdish allies in the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) also came under small arms fire after passing through a checkpoint near Tal al-Zahab, Syria. While the group had been given permission by Syrian government troops to pass, they engaged in a small firefight with the shooters, whom U.S. officials believe were pro-Syrian government and Russian forces.
There have also been a number of close calls involving U.S. and Russian jets over the years, yet none are known to have escalated to the point of bloodshed.
The U.S. has about 500 troops in Syria, most of which are located in the country’s northeast. U.S. troops have been fighting alongside the SDF and allies to mop up what’s left of the Islamic State group.
However, Moscow has accused Washington of maintaining an armed presence in the Arab country to prevent the Assad government from taking control of the country’s territory and stabilizing its economy, all while boosting the self-proclaimed Kurdish administration in the northeast of the country, encouraging separatism and a continuation of armed conflict.
The decision to boost the troop presence in Syria also comes as the Trump administration announced it would draw down the number of troops in Iraq and Afghanistan by half in the coming weeks.
“We constantly evaluate and re-evaluate the tactical position and we make adjustments to posture designed to give the troops on the ground what they need to be better protected as they carry out their mission,” McKenzie said. “Therefore, our forces in Syria, we believe that we give them what they need to execute the missions that they’ve got and we pay keen attention to force protection as they do that.”
Throughout the Syrian Civil War, the Russian and U.S. armed forces have operated in nearly constant close proximity and have established lines of communication to prevent any confrontations from escalating.
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