U.S. military prevented a Russian military convoy from using an important highway in northeastern Syria, local sources said. The incident came amid growing tensions between the two sides.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors military operations with the help of observers on the ground, said Tuesday that the U.S. forces did not allow Russian military to use the main route between the two cities, Al-Hasakah and Qamishli, in northeastern Syria, which are controlled by the Kurds.
The Russian convoy was trying to cross the Border Crossing between Syria and Iraq, which is controlled by the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), human rights activists said.
When the Turkish military and its allied Syrian militias launched an offensive against the SDF in October 2019 and the US withdrew from some areas near the Syrian-Turkish border, Russia, a staunch supporter of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, increased its military presence in the north-east of the country.
After increased pressure from Congress and foreign allies, President Donald Trump decided to leave about 500 U.S. troops to protect the region’s oil fields and prevent Islamic State and Syrian government forces from capturing them.
Now both the U.S. and Russia have military outposts in the region. Tuesday’s incident is part of a series of similar incidents that have occurred in recent days between the two powers, local sources said.
“This is the third incident in a week,” said local journalist Mohammad Hassan, who claims to have witnessed another recent standoff between U.S. and Russian forces in northeastern Syria.
#BREAKING #NE_SYRIA #American_forces prevent #Russian_forces from heading east towards the #oil areas of #Remilan #NE_SYRIA pic.twitter.com/q1h0aGCMzb — MOHAMMED HASSAN (@MHJournalist) January 21, 2020
The U.S. appears to want to limit Russian presence in parts of northeastern Syria, Mohammad suggests.
U.S. and Russian officials have not yet responded to the latest developments.
Given that Syrian forces now control most of the territory once held by the rebels, experts believe the recent Russian moves in northeastern Syria are an attempt to restore the Syrian government’s power in region.
“Russia is unequivocally focused on restoring regime power in the Kurdish region,” said Radwan Badini, a Syria expert, who teaches journalism and politics at Salahaddin University in Erbil in Iraqi Kurdistan, in a comment to Voice of America.
According to him, such provocations by Russia would not bring any useful results for Moscow, as northeast Syria is of strategic importance to the United States in its ongoing war against the Islamic State.