WASHINGTON — In the most violent skirmish in months between U.S. and Russian forces in Syria, a vehicle collision in the eastern part of the war-torn country left American troops with concussions, two U.S. officials said Wednesday.
One official said Russian vehicles sideswiped a light-armored U.S. military vehicle, injuring four Americans. The official said two Russian helicopters flew above the Americans, and one of the aircraft was within about 70 feet the vehicle.
National Security Council spokesman John Ullyot said in a statement that a Russian vehicle struck the American vehicle near Dayrick, in northeast Syria.
“To deescalate the situation, the coalition patrol departed the area,” Ullyot said. “Unsafe and unprofessional actions like this represent a breach of deconfliction protocols, committed to by the United States and Russia in December 2019.”
U.S. troops in Syria interact with Russian troops in the region almost every day — and most of the interactions are not contentious, according to the deputy commander of Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve.
While there have been several other recent incidents between the American and Russian troops who all patrol in eastern Syria, officials described this one as the most serious. U.S. troops are usually accompanied by members of the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces.
Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity to provide details of the incident that were not yet made public. One official said the incident happened deep inside the eastern Syria deconfliction zone, where Russian troops generally should not be present.
The officials said the incident is being discussed by senior officials from both countries who routinely work to prevent conflicts between troops in that area. U.S. and Russian commanders have frequent conversations to try and avoid contact between their troops there.
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“I think the Russians are always testing us.”
Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, spoke by phone on Wednesday to Gen. Valery Gerasimov, chief of the Russian General Staff. No details of the conversation were provided. Often the top U.S. and Russian military leaders do not publicly release the contents of their phone calls, so it’s not clear if the incident was discussed.
Ullyot said the U.S. forces were in what is called a Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected All-Terrain Vehicle. That replaced early versions of a vehicle developed more than a decade ago to allow troops in Afgnhanistan and Iraq to better withstand roadside bombs.