MOSCOW: Russia warned the United States it would target areas in Syria where US special forces and US-backed militia were operating if its own forces came under fire from them, which it said on Thursday had already happened twice.
Russia was referring to the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), an alliance of Kurdish and militias fighting with the US-led coalition, which Moscow said had diverted from the battle for control of Raqqa to Deir al Zor, where Russian special forces are helping the Syrian army push out IS militants.
The Russian Defence Ministry said the SDF had taken up positions on the eastern banks of the Euphrates with US special forces, and had twice opened fire with mortars and artillery on Syrian troops who were working alongside Russian special forces.
“A representative of the US military command in Al Udeid (the US operations centre 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,” Major-General Igor Konashenkov said in a statement. “Fire points in those areas will be immediately suppressed with all military means.”
The Russian warning underscores growing tensions over Syria between Moscow and Washington.
While both oppose IS, they are engaged, via proxies, in a race for strategic influence and potential resources in the form of oilfields. In eastern Syria’s Deir al Zor province, IS is battling two separate offensives with the SDF on one side and the Syrian army and its allies on the other.
The Russian Defence Ministry this week accused US spies of initiating a offensive against government-held parts of north-west Syria on Tuesday.