The Pentagon said Friday it has sent Bradley Fighting Vehicles to Syria, deployed new radar systems and increased the number of fighter jet patrols to “ensure the protection of our forces” — a clear message to Moscow just weeks after a run-in between American and Russian troops.
In a statement, U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) said the moves are solely for defensive purposes. Military leaders believe additional protections are warranted after a number of American troops were injured when their vehicle collided with a Russian vehicle in a disputed part of eastern Syria late last month.
“U.S. Central Command has directed a number of actions in northeast Syria to help ensure the safety and security of coalition forces,” CENTCOM spokesperson Capt. Bill Urban said in a statement. “The United States has deployed Sentinel radar, increased the frequency of U.S. fighter patrols over U.S. forces, and deployed Bradley Fighting Vehicles to augment U.S. forces in the Eastern Syria Security Area (ESSA).”
“These actions are a clear demonstration of U.S. resolve to defend coalition forces in the ESSA, and to ensure that they are able to continue their defeat-ISIS mission without interference,” he said. “The Defense Department has previously deployed Bradleys to northeast Syria pursuant to these goals. The United States does not seek conflict with any other nation in Syria, but will defend coalition forces if necessary.”
The U.S. has roughly 500 troops in Syria, down from a high of about 2,000 in the early days of the Trump administration. The troops are there to conduct some limited counter-terrorism operations, to protect oil fields in northeastern Syria, and to train and advise the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, a key American ally in the fight against the Islamic State.
Russian troops, meanwhile, are in Syria supporting dictator Bashar Assad’s government troops.
The two sides have had a number of encounters in recent months. When Mr. Trump pulled some American forces from the Syria-Turkey border last year, for example, Russian forces moved in to take control of abandoned U.S. military bases.
But the incident late last month resulted in the first known injuries to troops from either side. Video appeared 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.While Friday’s announcement does not involve the deployment of any additional troops, it does highlight the difficulty of fully withdrawing from Syria, as President Trump first tried to do nearly two years ago.