U.S. and Russian military vehicles in northeastern Syria appear to be skirmishing in an undeclared road war that has largely escaped the rest of the world’s attention.
“The encounters happen a few times each month and, thus far, have been resolved without escalation,” said Army Col. Myles Caggins, a spokesman for the U.S. military-led coalition in Syria and Iraq.
Most recently, a video has emerged on Twitter that shows an encounter between U.S. M-ATVs and Russian vehicles in Al Hasakah, Syria, in which a Russian commander reportedly berated a U.S. service member for following Russian vehicles.
Brett McGurk, the former U.S. envoy to the international coalition that is fighting ISIS, tweeted a video of the incident on July 18. It was unclear when the video was taken.
“Trump plays golf as US forces in Syria now on a daily basis confront Russians thanks to his impetuous decision to abandon 2/3 of once-stable ground to Putin and Erdogan,” McGurk tweeted. “Mr. President: Pick up the phone and tell Putin to stop harassing our troops.”
The video shows an American M-ATV following two vehicles that are flying the Russian flag. It then abruptly cuts to show two U.S. M-ATVs and a white pickup truck on the side of the road. A man speaking Russian on a radio can be heard and later another Russian vehicle emerges in front of the U.S. vehicles, indicating the convoy may be blocked from going forward.
Then two Russian vehicles – perhaps the same ones from earlier in the video – appear and pull up behind the U.S. convoy. The video ends with a man wearing a white shirt, plate carrier, and helmet speaking to an American service member.
CNN reporter Bianna Golodryga, who speaks Russian, translated the exchange when she re-tweeted the video.
“Unbelievable, an emboldened Russian officer directs an American soldier to ‘convey to his General that Russia strongly asks to stop chasing them,’” Golodryga tweeted.
The U.S. military currently has about 600 troops in northeast Syria and roughly another 150 service members at the Al Tanf Garrison as part of the war against ISIS. Last year, President Donald Trump initially announced that he was withdrawing all U.S. forces from Syria amid Turkey’s invasion of Kurdish-held territory, but then Trump said a contingent of service members was staying in the country to secure oil fields.
Meanwhile, the Russians have sent military forces as well as security contractors to fight for Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad. The Russian support has helped Assad’s forces regain most of Syria from rebel groups.
The U.S.-led military coalition that is fighting ISIS is looking into the events shown in the video, said Caggins, who referenced tweets by Mohammed Hassan, a freelance journalist in Syria, showing U.S. and Russian forces having several similar interactions before.
For example, Hassan tweeted a video on June 18 that appears to show several U.S. M-ATVs trying to box in a Russian armored vehicle in northeastern Syria.
“With Russia, Coalition forces work to de-conflict our movements through pre-existing communication channels, in order to prevent unnecessary and unplanned military interactions, and to de-escalate between forces when necessary,” Caggins said.