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