US-Russia tensions in eastern Syria
US-Russia tensions appear to be increasing in eastern Syria after several incidents. A new video shows two vehicles almost collide. We documented an incident at Khirbet Amo on February 12 where regime gunmen fired on a US patrol. It comes in the context of global tensions with Russia, tensions in Syria with the Syrian regime and local tensions with the Russian commanders.
In late December a "brawl" was reported, that apparently never happened. Tensions were reported on January 21 and February 4. These incidents have been downplayed or the reports dismissed. Russians after the Amo incident said "Only thanks to the efforts of the Russian troops who arrived at the scene of the incident, it was possible to prevent a further escalation of the conflict with local residents and to ensure the exit of the US Armed Forces." The US said that the incident didn't involve Russians, even though their vehicles were seen in video behind the gunmen.
The February 19 video
The video shows several Russian vehicles trying to pass a US patrol in Syria. A civilian car took the video that was widely disseminated online. It has been characterized as a kind of game of chicken or "Fast and the Furious." However it appears serious. A civilian jumps out of the way to avoid being hit. The Russian vehicles appeared to be trying to pass or harass the US patrol by driving in and out of their convoy.
A query to the US-led Coalition Combined Joint Task Force, Operation Inherent Resolve, elicited the following response:
“On Feb. 19, 2020, a Russian patrol violated the de-confliction protocols and did not adhere to the de-confliction measures, and was escorted out of the area of U.S. operations. Coalition forces seek to de-conflict our movements through pre-existing communication channels, in order to prevent unnecessary and unplanned military interactions, and de-escalate between forces when necessary. Russian patrols routinely violate de-confliction protocols. Overall, most interactions remain professional and controlled.” ~Col. Myles B. Caggins, CJTF-OIR Spokesman Q: Is there increased Russian interference? A: U.S. and Russian interactions in northeast Syria are occurring at a steady rate. Our de-confliction protocols provide separation between our operations in a professional and controlled manner. Q: Are the Russians interdicting US patrols, does this incident symbolize something more, or was the video just a bit of mistaken driving? A: U.S. patrols move to encounter Russian patrols that violate the de-confliction protocols in order to keep them a safe distance from Coalition areas of operations. Russian patrols routinely violate de-confliction protocols. Overall, most interactions remain professional and controlled. Very Respectfully, CJTF-OIR Media Ops.
This points to increased tension as it is clear the Russians are now violating de-confliction protocols more often. It may relate to tensions in Idlib or other places. This is part of a global context in which Russian and US forces have come into close proximity. In 2017 Russian fighter jets buzzed a US ship in the Black Sea. In June 2019 the USS Chancellorsville said a Russian ship maneuvered dangerously close. In January 2020 the USS Farragut reported that a Russian navy ship “aggressively approached” it in the Northern Arabian Sea.
In Syria it is unclear what the Russian agenda is and the US mission also remains unclear due to the US wanting to protect oil wells, and also fight ISIS and also oppose the Syrian regime and Iran.