Multiple artillery strikes landed about 1 kilometer from a road where U.S. forces in northeast Syria were paroling on Sunday, according to officials with Operation Inherent Resolve — the U.S.-led mission to defeat ISIS in Iraq and Syria.
No U.S. forces were injured and the patrol was not hit, according to OIR. Officials with OIR provided no other details regarding the artillery strike.
But the statement from the U.S.-led anti-ISIS coalition came following news from the Russian Ministry of Defence that American troops were attacked on a strategic road near the Syrian town of Tel Tamir.
Russia said American troops came under attack Sunday from Turkish-backed forces as they were driving along the M-4 highway just outside outside of Tel Tamir. The American convoy was headed towards the Iraq border, according to the Russian Ministry of Defence.
Russia said it received the information regarding the attack from the U.S. deconfliction line. The U.S. and Russia have a communication channel that allows the two sides to reduce tensions and deconflict operations in Syria.
“All Coalition military operations are de-conflicted with other forces operating in the region,” OIR said in an emailed statement to Military Times.
“Coalition forces maintain their inherent right to self-defense to ensure the success of our operations while prioritizing the safety of our troops,” OIR said.
It’s the second known incident of U.S. troops nearly being hit by artillery fire over the last several weeks.
Turkish forces fired several shells near a U.S. position in Kobane, Syria, just several days after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan ordered the start of military operations to combat U.S.-backed Kurdish fighters in northern Syria. Turkey believes the American supported Kurdish fighters are terrorists.
No U.S. troops were injured in the incident, which Turkey described as an accident. But some U.S. troops and former U.S. officials believe Turkey intentionally fired on American troops to push them out of Kobane.
Shortly after the incident, President Donald Trump ordered the withdrawal of all U.S. forces from northern Syria. Trump has routinely argued his decision to withdraw from Syria was made to keep American troops out of the crossfire of combative allies in the region. Trump has also oft said he wants to end America’s forever wars.
The decision to withdraw the roughly 1,000 American troops from Syria has come under much criticism from national security experts and U.S. officials who believe the ensuing power vacuum will breathe new life into ISIS.
Trump has since slightly walk backed his withdrawal order by ordering U.S. troops to help protect oil wells in eastern Syria from falling into the hands of a resurgent Islamic State.
On Oct. 31, Bradley armored vehicles with the 30th Armored Brigade Combat team —a National Guard unit from South Carolina — moved into eastern Syria towards oil rich Deir ez-Zor province to safeguard oil wells.
“We are repositioning" U.S. forces to Deir ez-Zor to continue partnering with the SDF “to defeat ISIS remnants, protect critical infrastructure” and to deny ISIS access to revenue sources. "Mechanized forces provide infantry, maneuver, and firepower,”OIR tweeted Thursday.
Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said U.S. forces protecting the oil wells are prepared to use “overwhelming military force” in self defense. He also said protecting the oil wells will ensure revenues for America’s ani- ISIS partner force the Syria Democratic Forces.
While the Pentagon and White House have stated U.S. forces in northeastern Syria will protect oil wells, American convoys and joint patrols with Kurdish allies have been spotted all over Syria in recent days.
Agence France-Presse also reported that American troops arrived at the Kurdish controlled town of Qamishli on Saturday and met with SDF officials. AFP said the U.S. was interested in reestablishing a military post in the city.
Military Times reached out to the Pentagon and officials with OIR regarding the potential U.S. military outpost in Qamishli and have yet to receive a response.
But the joint patrols near the border do question whether America’s mission in Syria is more expansive than protecting oil wells near Deir ez-Zor, and whether additional forces will be needed in the region.
Esper has previously said that American forces will continue to draw down in Syria despite the new mission to protect oil in the country. He said he also believed U.S. troops levels would likely be below 1,000.
Shawn Snow is the senior reporter for Marine Corps Times and a Marine Corps veteran.