Russia warned the United States on Thursday, September 21 that any attempts to fire on Russian or Syrian troops near Deir Ez-Zor from areas controlled by Syrian Democratic Forces and their Coalition advisors will result in immediate retaliation.
Defense ministry spokesperson Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said that regime troops and Russian special forces personnel have been targeted twice with mortar and rocket artillery fire from areas controlled by “SDF fighters and servicemen of US special forces.”
Konashenkov said that US command in Al Udeid, Qatar, “was told in no uncertain terms that any attempts to open fire from areas where SDF fighters are located would be quickly shut down.”
“Firing points in these areas will be immediately suppressed by all military means,” he said.
When asked about the Russian contact, a Coalition spokesperson told Grasswire that it “does not discuss specifics of its interactions with the Russians over the de-confliction line.”
On Wednesday, the Coalition confirmed that Syrian and Russian troops had crossed the Euphrates to the east bank where the SDF is battling Islamic State. The Syrian ISIS Hunters unit posted images that it claimed showed its fighters near Khusham, not far from where Syrian Democratic Forces were hit by an airstrike over the weekend.
The Coalition has repeatedly said it will defend its partner forces and Coalition advisors embedded with them if they are threatened.
Konashenkov also claimed that Russian reconnaissance recorded no clashes between the SDF and ISIS near Deir Ez-Zor in the past week, but the SDF has released the names of five of its fighters killed in Operation Jazeera Storm, the anti-ISIS offensive around Deir Ez-Zor and the Khabur river valley, and published details of its recent gains from ISIS, separately claiming that SDF special forces in Al Khasham village had freed three women and nine children.
A spokesperson for the Coalition told Grasswire: “Our SDF partners are clearing ISIS elements along the eastern side of the Euphrates River as part of Operation Jazeera Storm in the Dayr Az Zawr province. The SDF have successfully cleared more than 500 km2 of area since beginning operations and have incurred casualties.”
SDF advance northeast of Deir Ez-Zor
Konashenkov also said that SDF reinforcements been “dispatched from Raqqa province to the northern areas of the Deir Ez-Zor province.”
Ahmed Abu Khawla, commander of Deir Ez-Zor Military Council which is leading Operation Jazeera Storm, told Deir Ez-Zor 24 that an operation north of Deir Ez-Zor was underway.
“SDF forces continue to progress towards the Conoco gas field,” Abu Khawla said, referring to a gas field a few kilometres north of Khusham. He added that they were around 4 km away. He said the SDF had captured other nearby petroleum facilities.
Abu Khawla reiterated that the SDF’s ultimate objective is to control all territory east of the Euphrates and capture Al Bukamal.
Abu Khawla confirmed that Syrian regime forces with the support of Russian troops had crossed the Euphrates and reached strategic villages, despite DEMC warnings not to cross, adding that there appeared to be an understanding between Russia and America.
He again said that the DEMC will not hesitate to respond to any provocation or attempt to approach areas under its control.
Oil-rich Deir Ez-Zor is the only Syrian province where ISIS still holds significant territory. Syrian government and allied forces including Russia are mounting an anti-ISIS offensive west of the Euphrates river while the SDF is conducting a Coalition-backed campaign against ISIS on the east side, where the majority of Syria’s oil wells are located.
With regime troops now on the east bank, within 4 miles (6 kilometers) of SDF forces, de-confliction between the sides has gained even more importance.
An edited version of this post was published by The Globe Post