A U.S. military convoy was attacked on Wednesday by pro-Syrian government militia fighters in northeast Syria, local sources and U.S. officials said.
The incident occurred in a village near the northeastern city of Qamishli.
The U.S.-led coalition fighting the Islamic State (IS) terror group said its troops opened fire at a checkpoint manned by Syrian regime forces near Qamishli after they came under small arms fire.
“In self-defense, Coalition troops returned fire. The situation was de-escalated and is under investigation,” Col. Myles B. Caggins, a coalition spokesman, said in a statement, adding that “the Coalition patrol returned to base.”
But Col. Caggins said that “no airstrike” was carried out in the area.
Qamishli is mostly under the control of Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a military alliance that has been a major U.S. ally in the fight against IS.
However, Syrian government and Russian forces have a significant military presence on the southern outskirts of the city.
Jabber Jendo, a local reporter covering military developments, said Syrian government troops have dozens of loyal Arab militias in the Kurdish-majority region.“
Those who attacked the American convoy are affiliated with National Defense Forces, a pro-regime militia” he told VOA.
No Kurdish fighters present
A senior SDF official, who requested anonymity, attributed the Wednesday incident to the fact that no Kurdish fighters were present at the scene.
“Usually U.S. troops are accompanied by our forces when on patrol,” he told VOA, noting that “this time, however, no SDF fighters were involved.”
U.S. forces were in control of most of northeast Syria until October, when the Turkish military and its allied Syrian militias launched a campaign against the U.S.-backed SDF.
Since then, Russian forces and the Syrian government have entered the border region between Turkey and northeast Syria with the aim of filling the area evacuated by U.S. forces.
But the U.S. still has about 500 troops in the area who, according to U.S. officials, are protecting the region’s oil fields and preventing IS from reemerging.
There have been increasing tensions in recent weeks between U.S. and Russian forces in the region.
On several occasions recently, U.S. forces have blocked Russian military convoys from carrying out patrol missions in northeast Syria.
“It looks like this incident is fueled in some way by the growing tensions and also the growing feeling that the Syrian regime is on the winning side [of the war],” said Seth Frantzman, director of the Middle East Center for Reporting and Analysis.
He told VOA that Syrian government forces feel “that maybe now is the time to pressure the Americans and test their resolve.”