Rus­sia airstrike hits US-backed Kur­dish fight­ers, injuring six

The Mercury News - - Other Views - By Bassem Mroue

BEIRUT >> A U.S.-backed force in Syria said a Rus­sian airstrike wounded six of its fight­ers Satur­day near the east­ern city of Deir el-Zour while in south­east Syria, Syr­ian troops and their Iran­backed al­lies be­gan a new of­fen­sive aim­ing to cap­ture ar­eas along the Iraq bor­der un­der the cover of Rus­sian airstrikes.

The com­mand of the Kur­dish-led Syr­ian Demo­cratic Forces said in a state­ment that Satur­day’s air raid oc­curred on the east­ern side of the Euphrates River in the in­dus­trial area that was re­cently lib­er­ated from the Is­lamic State group.

The U.S. mil­i­tary said in a state­ment that Rus­sian forces struck a tar­get east of the Euphrates River near Deir el-Zour caus­ing in­juries to U.S.-led Coali­tion part­ner forces.

“Rus­sian mu­ni­tions im­pacted a lo­ca­tion known to the Rus­sians to con­tain Syr­ian Demo­cratic Forces and Coali­tion ad­vis­ers,” the state­ment said, adding that the wounded SDF fight­ers re­ceived med­i­cal care fol­low­ing the strike.

It said that multi­na­tional coali­tion troops ad­vis­ing and as­sist­ing the SDF were present, but not wounded as a re­sult of the Rus­sian strike.

“Coali­tion of­fi­cials are avail­able and the de-con­flic­tion line with Rus­sia is open 24 hours per day,” coali­tion com­man­der Lt. Gen. Paul E. Funk II said. “We put our full ef­forts into pre­vent­ing un­nec­es­sary es­ca­la­tion among forces that share ISIS as our com­mon enemy,” said Funk us­ing an acro­nym to re­fer to IS.

“The coali­tion and its part­ners remain com­mit­ted to the de­feat of ISIS and con­tin­ued de-con­flic­tion with Rus­sian of­fi­cials,” the state­ment said. “Coali­tion forces and part­ners al­ways re­tain the right of self-de­fense.”

SDF fight­ers have been ad­vanc­ing against IS fight­ers on the east bank of the Euphrates while Syr­ian gov­ern­ment forces and their al­lies are push­ing on the west­ern side against the ex­trem­ists.

The march by the SDF aims to pre­vent Syr­ian troops and their al­lies from ex­pand­ing their pres­ence along the bor­der with Iraq.

The air raid came as Syr­ian troops and their Iran­backed al­lies be­gan a new of­fen­sive dubbed “Fajr 3”, or “Dawn 3”, that aims to cap­ture ar­eas along the bor­der with Iraq in south­east Syria un­der the cover of Rus­sian airstrikes, ac­cord­ing to a state­ment by the com­man­der of Iran-backed fight­ers.

The state­ment of the un­named com­man­der was re­leased on me­dia arms of Le­banon’s mil­i­tant Hezbol­lah group that is a main force fight­ing along­side Syr­ian troops.

The com­man­der said Syr­ian troops along with fight­ers from Hezbol­lah, Afghanistan’s Fa­timiy­oun, Pak­istan’s Zein­abiy­oun and Ira­nian fight­ers will take part in the of­fen­sive that aims to reach the Syr­ian bor­der town of Bouka­mal that is a main strong­hold of the ex­trem­ists.

“The aim is to clear this wide and strate­gic area from the filth of Daesh fight­ers,” the com­man­der said us­ing an Ara­bic acro­nym to re­fer to IS. The even­tual cap­ture of the area all the way to Bouka­mal would boost Iran’s in­flu­ence in the re­gion, which has suc­ceed in opening a nar­row cor­ri­dor link­ing ar­eas con­trolled by its al­lies in Iraq and Syria all the way to the Mediter­ranean.

Wash­ing­ton has been de­ter­mined to block the for­ma­tion of an “Ira­nian cor­ri­dor” — of Shi­ite-con­trolled land stretch­ing from Tehran to Da­m­as­cus — and has sped up the push by the SDF in Deir el-Zour to try to block the road against Iran and its al­lies.

The an­nounce­ment about the of­fen­sive in Syria came hours af­ter an Iraqi mil­i­tary com­man­der said troops have launched a multi-pronged op­er­a­tion to cap­ture a town near the Syr­ian bor­der from IS.

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