Pentagon: Russia knowingly hit US-backed SDF in Syria

Russia denies targeting alliance of Kurdish and Arab fighters in Deir Az Zor as both sides battle ISIL in the province.

A female fighter from SDF stands near a military tank in the village of Abu Fas
The war in Syria has killed at least 330,000 people [File: Rodi Said/Reuters]

Russian air attacks have targeted US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces and coalition advisers east of the Euphrates River in Syria’s Deir Az Zor province, according to the Pentagon.

Saturday’s incident wounded several SDF fighters, but the coalition advisers were unharmed, it said in a statement.

“Russian munitions impacted a location known to the Russians to contain Syrian Democratic Forces and coalition advisers,” the Pentagon said.

Russia’s military spokesman earlier denied targeting SDF, an alliance of Arab and Kurdish fighters.

“This is not possible. Why would we bomb them?” Igor Konashenkov, Russia’s military spokesman, told AFP news agency at the Hmeimim base, Moscow’s main outpost for its air operations in Syria.

The attack was first reported by the SDF in a statement, which accused the Syrian government – backed by Russian air force – of trying to obstruct its fighters as both of the forces battle the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) group in oil-rich Deir Az Zor province – ISIL’s last major foothold in Syria.

Such attacks “waste energies that should be used against terrorism … and open the door to side conflicts”, it said.

On Friday, Bouthaina Shaaban, top adviser to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, told Al-Manar television that it was up to Russia and the US to see that the SDF and Syria’s army do not clash.

“Whether it’s the SDF, Daesh, or any illegitimate foreign forces … we will work against them until all our land is liberated,” she told the channel, which is run by allied Lebanese movement Hezbollah, referring to ISIL using its Arabic acronym Daesh.

“It’s the role of Russia and America to see that this confrontation doesn’t take place,” she said.

Multi-front war

Syria’s crisis erupted with protests demanding the removal of Assad in 2011, but it has since morphed into a complex, multi-front war that has killed 330,000 people and displaced millions.

ISIL, also known as ISIS, which in 2014 overran swaths of territory across Syria, is seeing its zones of control dwindle even as it claims responsibility for bloody attacks abroad.

It once held most of Deir Az Zor province and its capital, encircling around 100,000 civilians that still lived in government-controlled neighbourhoods there.

READ MORE: Syria’s civil war explained from the beginning

But Russian-backed troops breached the ISIL sieges on the city earlier this month and are now working to shut off the group’s remaining escape routes.

Pro-regime forces had also begun fighting to reach the ISIL-held town of Albukamal, according to a statement published by a joint operations room of loyalists including Iranian, Iraqi, and Lebanese fighters from Hezbollah.

Albukamal lies on Syria’s eastern border with Iraq and is regularly targeted by coalition air raids.

ISIL has also been pushed out of two-thirds of its former bastion Raqqa by the SDF.

Source: News Agencies