- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 27, 2020

Washington and Moscow traded blame Thursday for a military vehicle collision in Syria earlier this week that left four American service members injured and offered another reminder of the dangers facing U.S. forces operating inside the war-torn country.

The Tuesday collision, White House National Security Council officials said, was the result of “unsafe and unprofessional actions” by Russian forces and represented a clear breach of deconfliction protocols both countries have agreed to abide by inside Syria. Video that surfaced on social media Wednesday appears to show a Russian military vehicle sideswiping an American vehicle while at least two Russian helicopters are flying overhead.

U.S. officials pinned the blame on the behavior of Russian forces, but Moscow said it had followed all proper protocols and alerted the American military about its movements.

“Despite that, in violation of the existing agreements, the U.S. troops attempted to block the Russian patrol,” the Russia Defense Ministry said in a statement. “In response to that, the Russian military police took the necessary measures to prevent an incident and to continue the fulfillment of their task.”

Pentagon leaders and their Russian counterparts reportedly spoke on the phone after the incident in the hopes of ensuring no such incidents happen again.

Russian forces are operating in Syria to support dictator Bashar Assad’s regime and, they say, to battle terrorist forces such as the Islamic State.

The U.S., meanwhile, has a small force of about 500 troops in Syria to support the Syrian Democratic Forces and other American allies also battling the Islamic State.

The two sides operate in close proximity in eastern Syria.

Efforts to get U.S. forces from Syria has been a constant struggle for the Trump administration. President Trump in late 2018 ordered troops to leave the country — an announcement that led to the resignation of then-Defense Secretary James Mattis.

Ultimately, however, some U.S. forces remained in the country. 

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