Russian forces struck and injured Syrian Democratic Forces near Deir ez-Zor, the US-led Coalition said in a Saturday, September 16 statement.
“Russian munitions impacted a location known to the Russians to contain Syrian Democratic Forces and Coalition advisors. Several SDF fighters were wounded and received medical care as a result of the strike.
“Multinational Coalition troops advising and assisting the SDF were present but not wounded as a result of the Russian strike.…
“Coalition forces and partners always retain the right of self-defense.”
The Coalition said the strike occurred at 00:30 GMT (03:30 local time), but did not specify if aircraft carried out the attack.
Lt. Gen. Paul E. Funk II, the Coalition’s new commander said: “Coalition officials are available and the de-confliction line with Russia is open 24 hours per day.”
Update Col Ryan Dillon, spokesperson for the Coalition, tweeted an image of medics treating an SDF fighter “wounded by Russian airstrike.”
— OIR Spokesman (@OIRSpox) September 16, 2017
Earlier the SDF said in a statement that its forces were hit by pre-dawn airstrikes in an industrial area east of Deir ez-Zor.
“At 3:30 in the morning (16 September 2017), our forces east of the Euphrates were attacked by Russian and Syrian air forces, targeting our units in the industrial zone, wounding six of our fighters.”
The strike occurred in the Al Salhiyah industrial area northeast of Deir ez-Zor city, about 7km (4 miles) from the Euphrates river. Ahmed Abu Khawla, commander of the SDF’s Deir ez-Zor Military Council, told Reuters that jets flew in from government-held territory.
Deir ez-Zor Military Council, a mainly Arab faction, is leading Operation Jazeera Storm, the SDF and Coalition-backed campaign against ISIS in the Khabur valley area on the east bank of the Euphrates river. Syrian government and allied forces are mounting an anti-ISIS offensive on the west bank.
“We have requested explanations from the Russian government,” Abu Khawla said. “We have asked for explanations from the Coalition … and necessary action to stop these jets.”
Update YPG commander-in-chief Sîpan Hemo told ANHA that SDF forces, including Deir-ez- Zor Military Council and the YPG, the Kurd-led force that makes up the majority of the SDF, were hit by both airstrikes and artillery shelling from Syrian government and Russian forces.
“We are fighting against IS mercenaries, the regime and Russia are bombing the positions of our forces,” Hemo said. “We are asking Russia to explain the reasons for its bombing of our sites.”
The YPG website quoted Hemo as saying: “Our forces will rescue the east of the Euphrates and the villages of Deir ez-Zor from ISIS gangs. This is a duty on our shoulders. The whole world should know this. We have told all the international forces, the International Coalition and the Russian administration that we are going to liberate these areas.”
“We will retaliate [against] all forces attacking our forces and hindering our advance,” Hemo added.
Russia denies responsibility
Responding to the SDF’s accusation, Russian military spokesman Igor Konashenkov told AFP: “This is not possible. Why would we bomb them?”
A Syrian military source told the pro-regime Muraselon news website that neither Russian nor Syrian forces were responsible for the strike. “The Syrian Air Force is absolutely not responsible for the airstrike that hit the Kurdish forces located in the eastern bank of the Euphrates River,” the source said.
Assad advisor says regime will fight SDF
On Friday, Abu Khawla warned regime and allied forces against attacks on Deir ez-Zor Military Council fighters east of the Euphrates.
“Now we have 3 km between us and the eastern riverbank, once our forces reach the area, any shot fired into that area we will consider an attack on the military council,” he said.
“We have notified the regime and Russia that we are coming to the Euphrates riverbank, and they can see our forces advancing,” he said. “We do not allow the regime or its militias to cross to the eastern riverbank.”
Russian foreign ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova said Syrian forces had already crossed the river. “The suburbs of this provincial center [Deir ez-Zor] have been liberated. Advance units have successfully crossed the Euphrates and are holding positions on its eastern bank,” she said.
In an apparent response, Bouthaina Shaaban, political and media adviser to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, said on Friday that government forces and their allies will fight any force – including the SDF – to retake the whole country, Press TV reported.
“Whether it’s the Syrian Democratic Forces or Daesh or any illegitimate foreign force in the country … we will fight and work against them so our land is freed completely from any aggressor,” Shaaban said in an interview with the Lebanon-based al-Manar television network.
“I’m not saying this will happen tomorrow … but this is the strategic intent.”
She said the SDF “are trying to get areas [where there is] oil … but they will not get what they want,” an apparent reference to oil-rich Deir ez-Zor province.