US-backed forces in east­ern Syria: Govern­ment, Rus­sian jets at­tacked us

Of­fen­sives con­verg­ing on ISIS in Deir al-Zor from op­po­site sides of river


BEIRUT (Reuters) – US-backed mili­tias said they came un­der at­tack on Satur­day from Rus­sian jets and Syr­ian govern­ment forces in Deir al-Zor prov­ince, a flash­point in an in­creas­ingly com­plex bat­tle­field.

The Syr­ian Demo­cratic Forces, an al­liance of Kur­dish and Arab mili­tias fight­ing with the US-led mil­i­tary coali­tion, said the strikes wounded six of its fight­ers.

Wash­ing­ton and Moscow are back­ing sep­a­rate of­fen­sives in the Syr­ian con­flict – with both sides ad­vanc­ing against Is­lamic State gun­men in the east­ern re­gion that bor­ders Iraq.

“Our forces east of the Euphrates were hit with an at­tack from the Rus­sian air­craft and Syr­ian regime forces, tar­get­ing our units in the in­dus­trial zone,” the SDF said in a state­ment.

The SDF ac­cused Da­m­as­cus of try­ing to ob­struct its bat­tle against Is­lamic State. Such at­tacks “waste en­er­gies that should be used against ter­ror­ism... and open the door to side con­flicts,” it said.

There was no im­me­di­ate com­ment from the Syr­ian govern­ment or Moscow.

The as­saults by the Rus­sian-backed Syr­ian Army and the US-backed SDF have at times raised fears of clashes that could stoke ten­sions be­tween the com­pet­ing world pow­ers.

The of­fen­sives have con­verged on Is­lamic State from op­po­site sides of the Euphrates River, which bi­sects oil-rich Deir al-Zor, Is­lamic State’s last ma­jor foothold in Syria.

Syr­ian troops with Iran­backed mili­tias have closed in from the west since a week ago, while the SDF ad­vances from the east.

Rus­sian and US bat­tles against Is­lamic State in Syria have mostly stayed out of each other’s way, with the Euphrates of­ten act­ing as a di­vid­ing line. Talks have been un­der way to ex­tend a for­mal de­mar­ca­tion line, of­fi­cials have said.

In June, the SDF ac­cused the Syr­ian Army of bomb­ing its po­si­tions in Raqqa prov­ince and the United States shot down a Syr­ian govern­ment war­plane.

Ahmed Abu Khawla, the com­man­der of the SDF’s Deir al-Zor mil­i­tary coun­cil, said Rus­sian or Syr­ian fighter jets flew in from govern­ment-held ter­ri­tory be­fore dawn.

The war­planes struck as the SDF waged “heated and bloody bat­tles” in the in­dus­trial zone on the east­ern bank, seiz­ing fac­to­ries from Is­lamic State ter­ror­ists, he said.

“We have re­quested ex­pla­na­tions from the Rus­sian govern­ment,” he told Reuters. “We have asked for ex­pla­na­tions from the coali­tion... and nec­es­sary ac­tion to stop these jets.

The strikes came a day af­ter Khawla said his fight­ers would not let Syr­ian govern­ment forces cross the Euphrates.

On Fri­day, he warned the army and its al­lies against fir­ing at SDF po­si­tions across the river – which he said they had done in re­cent days. The Rus­sian For­eign Min­istry said units of the Syr­ian Army had al­ready crossed.

A se­nior aide to Pres­i­dent Bashar As­sad said the govern­ment would fight any force, in­clud­ing the US-backed mili­tias, to re­cap­ture the en­tire coun­try.

“I’m not say­ing this will hap­pen to­mor­row..., but this is the strate­gic in­tent,” Bouthaina Shaa­ban said in a TV in­ter­view.

The US-led coali­tion said a week ago that the SDF did not plan to en­ter Deir al-Zor city, where Syr­ian troops re­cently broke an Is­lamic State siege that had lasted three years.

A pro-Da­m­as­cus mil­i­tary al­liance launched at­tacks on Satur­day from the south­ern cor­ner of Deir al-Zor prov­ince to drive Is­lamic State from the Iraqi bor­der.

Is­lamic State is also com­ing un­der at­tack by US-backed Iraqi govern­ment forces just over the bor­der from Syria’s Deir al-Zor in­side Iraq.

Is­lamic State’s dec­la­ra­tion in 2014 of a “caliphate” span­ning both coun­tries ef­fec­tively col­lapsed in July, when an Iraqi of­fen­sive cap­tured Mo­sul, the Sunni ter­ror­ists’ cap­i­tal in Iraq.

(Rodi Said/Reuters)

MEM­BERS OF THE Deir al-Zor mil­i­tary coun­cil, which fights un­der the Syr­ian Demo­cratic Forces, stand to­gether on Au­gust 25.

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