ANKARA/DAMASCUS: US forces opened fire on Assad regime fighters on Wednesday after a coalition patrol of nine armored vehicles was attacked at a checkpoint near Qamishli in northeast Syria. One Syrian fighter was shot dead and another was wounded in the exchange, and US warplanes later launched airstrikes on the regime-held village of Khirbet Amo.
“Coalition forces conducting a patrol near Qamishli encountered a checkpoint occupied by pro-Syrian regime forces,” US spokesman Myles Caggins said.
“The patrol came under small arms fire from unknown individuals. In self-defense, coalition troops returned fire.”
Caggins said the patrol returned safely to base after the situation was “de-escalated.”
Hundreds of US troops are stationed in northeastern Syria, working with their local partners from the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces to fight against the Daesh group. The US carries out patrols in northeastern Syria, but it was not immediately clear why the convoy drove into a government-controlled area.
The incident marks a rare confrontation involving US and Syrian troops in the crowded region where Russian forces are also deployed — and is certain to further escalate tensions.
State-run Al-Ikhbariya TV aired a cellphone video showing an armored vehicle flying a US flag standing on a rural road while a car appeared to be blocking its way.
Locals are seen walking past the US armored vehicle, with at least two soldiers inside, one of whom steps down as civilians approach. One civilian is seen tearing a US flag as he approaches the soldier.
The TV said protests spread, preventing reinforcements from coming to help the US convoy. The report said the wounded civilian and was being treated at the Qamishli hospital.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said residents and armed pro-government militiamen in Khirbet Ammu blocked the path of a US convoy. The militia fired in the air, prompting the American troops to fire smoke bombs. Tension escalated and US troops killed one person, the Observatory said.
The clash distracted attention from northwest Syria, where analysts warned that tensions between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Assad regime and the regime’s Russian ally were reaching boiling point.
An agreement reached between Turkey and Russia at Sochi in 2018 was supposed to lead to de-escalation and prevent a regime offensive in Idlib, but it has succeeded in neither aim, and clashes between Erdogan’s and Assad’s forces are increasing in number.
“The regime, backed by Russian forces and Iran-backed militants, are continuously attacking civilians, committing massacres and shedding blood,” Erdogan said on Wednesday.
He said Turkey would do “whatever necessary” to push regime forces back behind the 12 observation posts it set up in Idlib under the Sochi deal.
“I hereby declare that we will strike regime forces everywhere from now on, regardless of the Sochi deal, if any tiny bit of harm comes to our soldiers at observation posts or elsewhere,” he said.
In return, Russia accused Turkey of failing to honor the 2018 deal. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the Turkish side “had taken upon itself an obligation to neutralize terrorist groups” in Idlib.
However, he said: “All these groups are mounting an attack on the Syrian army from Idlib and are acting aggressively toward Russian military installations.”
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova also dismissed Erdogan’s claims of attacks on civilians. “We have differing interpretations from Turkey,” she said.
A Russian delegation including military and intelligence officials held two rounds of talks in Ankara this week, but no concrete agreement emerged.
Erdogan’s direct criticism of Moscow is a rare move since 2015, when Turkey shot down a Russian fighter jet that had strayed into its airspace.
His threats also prompted an angry response from the Assad regime in Damascus. “The head of the Turkish regime comes with empty ... statements only issued by a person disconnected from reality,” a Foreign Ministry spokesman said.