U.S.-backed forces in Syria ac­cuse Rus­sia of airstrikes

Richmond Times-Dispatch Weekend - - Nation&world - By The Washington Post

BEIRUT — The U.S.-led coali­tion fight­ing the Is­lamic State in Syria said Satur­day that its part­ner forces have been at­tacked by Rus­sian war­planes, es­ca­lat­ing tensions on one of the coun­try’s most com­plex and con­tested bat­tle­fields.

The coali­tion said an airstrike tar­geted po­si­tions used by the Syr­ian Demo­cratic Forces, or SDF, a Kur­dish-dom­i­nated mili­tia backed by Washington, as well as the in­ter­na­tional ad­vis­ers sup­port­ing them in a weeks-old of­fen­sive to dis­lodge Is­lamic State mil­i­tants from the east­ern prov­ince of Deir al-Zour.

As the Is­lamic State loses ter­ri­tory across Syria and Iraq, oil-rich Deir alZour has become a hub for the group’s se­nior lead­ers.

Stretch­ing along the east­ern bor­der with Iraq, it has also emerged as a geopo­lit­i­cal bat­tle­ground for forces try­ing to sup­port or thwart Ira­nian at­tempts to se­cure sup­ply routes stretch­ing from Beirut to Tehran.

The U.S.-led coali­tion in­ter­vened in Syria and Iraq in 2014 to halt the Is­lamic State’s con­quest across swaths of both coun­tries. Iran and Rus­sia’s in­volve­ment dates back to the early months of the civil war that fol­lowed Syria’s 2011 antigov­ern­ment up­ris­ing, bankrolling and later mil­i­tar­ily sup­port­ing Pres­i­dent Bashar As­sad’s forces.

Satur­day’s at­tack marks the first time that the U.S.and Rus­sian-backed forces have clashed di­rectly.

Al­though the Pen­tagon, SDF, Rus­sia and Syria have agreed on a line of “phys­i­cal sep­a­ra­tion” be­tween their par­al­lel of­fen­sives, ris­ing tensions have raised the specter of open clashes.

“Coali­tion of­fi­cials are avail­able, and the de­con­flic­tion line with Rus­sia is open 24 hours per day,” coali­tion com­man­der Lt. Gen. Paul E. Funk II said in a state­ment Satur­day.

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