SYRIAN CRISIS US-led force says its fighters hit by Russian, regime strikes
Calls the airstrikes an attempt to create obstacles in its ‘progress’
Beirut, Lebanon - A US-backed force battling the Islamic State (IS) in eastern Syria accused regime and Russian warplanes on Saturday of bombing its fighters.
It marked the first time the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), an alliance of Arab and Kurdish fighters, have said they have been hit by Russia.
The SDF and Russian-backed Syrian government forces are conducting parallel but separate offensives against IS in the strategic and oil-rich eastern province of Deir Ezzor.
Regime troops are waging an assault for the provincial capital, Deir Ezzor city, while SDF fighters battle the extremists further east across the Euphrates River.
“At 3.30am on September 16, 2017, our forces east of the Euphrates River were targeted by Russian and Syrian regime warplanes in the Al Sinaaiya area,” the SDF said.
It said six of its fighters were wounded.
Al Sinaaiya is an industrial area northeast of Deir Ezzor city, about 7km from the east bank of the Euphrates.
“At a time when the SDF’s brave forces are scoring great victories against IS in Raqa and Deir Ezzor...some parties are trying to create obstacles to our progress,” the statement said.
The SDF’s assaults against IS in Deir Ezzor and in Raqa further up the Euphrates Valley are both backed by the US-led coalition, while regime troops are getting air cover from Russia.
SDF fighters say they not coordinating their Deir Ezzor operations with the government or Russia.
But the coalition says there is a de-confliction line to prevent the two offensives from clashing.
The line agreed between Russia, the regime, the SDF and the coalition runs from Raqa province southeast along the Euphrates River to Deir Ezzor.
The skies over Syria have become increasingly congested as the six-year conflict has dragged on, with warplanes from the coalition, the Syrian government and Russia all carrying out air strikes.
Confrontations between the warplanes have been rare, but in June a US fighter jet shot down a Syrian warplane accused of bombing SDF units in the country’s north.
Syria’s crisis erupted with protests demanding the ouster of President Bashar Assad in 2011, but it has since morphed into a complex, multi-front war that has killed 330,000 people and displaced millions.
IS once held most of Deir Ezzor province and its capital, encircling around 100,000 civilians.
But Russian-backed troops breached the IS sieges on the city earlier this month and are now working to shut off the remaining escape routes.
IS has also been pushed out of two-thirds of its former bastion Raqa by the SDF.
Smoke rises from buildings following a strike on a rebel-held area of the Jobar district, east of the Syrian capital on Thursday