United States dismisses fears of wider war after deadly Syria clashes
09 February, 2018, 03:45 | Author: Dustin Murphy
Deadly air strikes by a US-led coalition on pro-regime forces in eastern Syria were purely an act of self-defense, Pentagon chief Jim Mattis said Thursday, in an apparent effort to tamp down controversy over the incident.
It coincides with heightened tensions between the United States and the Syrian government as the Islamic State war appears to be winding down, leaving eastern Syria roughly partitioned between US-backed forces and the Russian-backed Syrian government.
USA officials believe that the regime, strapped for cash after a almost eight-year-long civil war, hopes to recapture the oil fields and simultaneously deny the Syrian Democratic Forces a source of revenue and legitimacy.
In defense of Coalition and partner forces, the Coalition conducted strikes against attacking forces to repel the act of aggression against partners engaged in the Global Coalition's defeat-Daesh [ISIS] mission. They have not ruled out that Iranian backed-forces might have also been involved in the attack, this official said. Pentagon officials, however, do not believe the Russians were after the Americans.
One official said that assessment is based on information obtained from monitoring communications in the area and from drone surveillance.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said Thursday that military experts and diplomats were now collecting data on the incident and would comment later.
In order to achieve its goals in Syria, the United States has become reliant on its main ally in the fight against ISIS, the 50,000 strong Syrian Democratic Forces, a mix of Kurdish and Arab fighters who helped fight off Wednesday's attack by pro-regime forces. Additionally, Turkey has threatened to launch a military operation against Manbij, Syria, a place where U.S. troops do work with local Kurdish and Arab fighters. "Coalition service members in an advise, assist, and accompany capacity were co-located with SDF partners during the attack eight kilometers east of the agreed-upon Euphrates River de-confliction line".
According to the US Central Command, coalition advisers were present in the area that was attacked by pro-government forces in Deir Ezzor late on Wednesday. "Russian officials assured Coalition officials they would not engage Coalition forces in the vicinity".
"The SDF responded with artillery fire on regime positions in the town of Khasham before the intervention of coalition forces", he said.
"As a result of the shelling, 25 Syrian militias were injured", the statement said.
The US maintains about 2,000 troops in Syria, who mostly work with the over 50,000-strong Syrian Democratic Forces, a mix of Kurdish and Arab fighters who have been the primary US-backed force fighting ISIS in Syria.
A deconfliction line establishing the Euphrates River as the divide between the rival forces was negotiated between the USA and Russian militaries past year, and until now it has served to mostly keep the armies apart. The US also shot down a pro-regime drone after it dropped a munition in the vicinity of US troops in Syria.
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