The U.S. sent a veiled warning Russia’s way on Sept. 18, saying that it will not hesitate to defend the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, which Russia reportedly hit Saturday with airstrikes.
“@CJTFOIR will defend itself and #SDF against threats; continue to defeat #ISIS in Syria,” Army Col. Ryan Dillon, spokesman for Operation Inherent Resolve, tweeted out Monday.
Dillon’s tweet is clearly in reference to the Pentagon’s claim that Russian airstrikes targeted the U.S.-backed, Kurdish-led SDF in Deir Ezzor east of the Euphrates River.
“Russian munitions impacted a location known to the Russians to contain Syrian Democratic Forces and coalition advisers,” the Pentagon said in a statement. “Several SDF fighters were wounded.”
No U.S. advisers embedded with SDF were hit, but a U.S. official told CNN that U.S. special operators were only a couple miles away from the location where the Russian airstrikes hit. The U.S. is still exploring the possibility that the strike was merely an error by the Russians, as opposed to a deliberate attack.
Russia shot back Sunday denying the Pentagon’s claim, stating instead that Russia only targets Islamic State fighters.
“Russian air forces carry out pinpoint strikes only on IS [Isis] targets that have been observed and confirmed through several channels,” Russian defense ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said.
Both the SDF and Syrian Army have been in a race to take back Deir Ezzor from ISIS. While SDF was working on retaking Raqqa, Russian airstrikes backed the Syrian Army in breaking ISIS’ three-year-long siege on Deir Ezzor. Following Syrian Army advancements on Deir Ezzor, SDF quickly moved 86 miles south-east to the city from Raqqa, announcing Saturday it was launching a new offensive from the north and east, just as the Syrian Army is making major strides from the west.