A United States-led coalition said yesterday it killed at least 100 pro-regime fighters to fend off an attack on its allies in eastern Syria, in one of its deadliest confrontations yet with forces backing Damascus.
Syrian militias came under fire of the US -led coalition and its local allies as they had failed to inform the Russian military about their plans to conduct a reconnaissance and search operation, the Russian Defense Ministry said in a statement Thursday.
The initial attack was carried out by forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad on key oil and gas installations in parts of Deir Ezzor province controlled by US-backed Kurdish forces.
Assad, who is supported by Russian Federation and by Shi'ite militias backed by Iran, has said he wants to take back every inch of Syria.
The forces were "likely seeking to seize oilfields in Khusham that had been a major source of revenue for Daesh [ISIS] from 2014 to 2017", added the official.
The local USA allies have proven to be an effective fighting force against ISIS and have also helped check Assad and Iran's presence in eastern Syria, with Russia and the USA negotiating an agreed-upon "de-confliction" line to separate Russian-backed regime troops and US-backed forces. "I can't tell you", he said. The U.S. has long supported the Syrian Democratic Forces, often characterizing the group as "moderate", and crediting them for playing a significant role in the defeat of ISIS in Syria.
The statement also claimed that the US-led attack was "in self-defense".
Russian Federation on Thursday said the USA goal in Syria was not to fight IS, but to capture the country's economic assets. "This is self-defense".
Reuters later cited a United States official as saying on condition of anonymity that over 100 pro-government forces had been killed in the assault.
Syrian state television reported that the coalition had caused "dozens of dead and wounded" by bombing pro-government forces.
"This action was taken in self-defense", Veale said, adding that pro-regime forces that returned across the river had not been targeted. "We demand (that the worldwide community) condemn this massacre and hold the coalition responsible for it".
Regime and SDF fighters were involved in several skirmishes in the area a year ago, as they each conducted parallel operations against some of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria militant group's last bastions.
The Euphates river Valley has been a sort of boundary demarcating both forces, with the SDF controlling east of the river while the government controls west.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson laid out the administration's goals in Syria during a speech at the Hoover Institution in California last month, saying the USA wants to defeat ISIS and al Qaeda, help resolve the Syrian civil war, contain Iran's influence in Syria, help Syrian refugees return home and ensure that Syria is free of weapons of mass destruction.
USA forces in Syria have already faced direct threats from Syrian and Iranian-backed forces, leading to the shoot-down of Iranian drones and a Syrian jet a year ago, as well as to tensions with Russian Federation.
Still, these episodes have been sporadic.