U.S. patrol troops clash with pro-Syrian group
DAMASCUS — A Syrian was killed and another was wounded when government supporters attacked American troops and tried to block their way as their convoy drove through an army checkpoint in northeastern Syria, prompting a rare clash, state media and activists reported.
The Pentagon said its force came under fire, and that troops responded in self-defense. It said the incident was being investigated.
Syrian state media said the dead man was a civilian and that he was among villagers east of Qamishli who had gathered at the checkpoint and pelted the U.S. convoy with rocks.
A video posted on state news agency SANA’s website showed angry men firing small arms at a convoy of several armored vehicles flying the U.S. flag. In one of the worst incidents of violence against U.S. troops deployed in northeastern Syria, a small fire appears to ignite on an armored vehicle, apparently from firebombs lobbed at the convoy.
U.S. soldiers were seen standing in the middle of the melee, trying to disperse the crowd.
Other videos showed another vehicle stuck in the dirt, apparently having veered into a ditch, while another had a flat tire. In one video, a resident walked up to U.S. soldiers at one of the vehicles, holding a U.S. flag, screaming: “What do you want from our country? What is your business here?” A soldier tells the shouting man to “back off.”
At that point, American troops fired live ammunition and smoke bombs at the residents, the reports said.
A U.S. military spokesman said coalition forces patrolling near Qamishli encountered a checkpoint occupied by government
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THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 13, 2020 forces who ignored a series of warnings by coalition troops to de-escalate the situation.
Hundreds of U.S. troops are stationed in northeastern Syria, working with the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces to fight against the Islamic State group. The U.S. carries out patrols in northeastern Syria, but it was not immediately clear why the convoy drove into a government-controlled area Wednesday.
The clash marked a rare confrontation involving U.S. and Syrian troops in the crowded region where Russian forces are also deployed. At one point during the incident, U.S., Russian and Syrian flags could be seen next to one another, reflecting the complicated situation in northeastern Syria. Some reports said a Russian convoy arrived on the scene to defuse the tension.
Asked about the incident, U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said in Brussels he was told there was an “altercation,” without providing details.
“As far as I know, today’s incident did not involve the Russians,” he said, who heavily support the Damascus government militarily.
Russian, Syrian and other troops gathered around a U.S. military convoy stuck in the village of Khirbet Ammu, east of Qamishli, Syria, on Wednesday. The Pentagon said the Americans acted in self-defense.