MESOP BACKGROUNDER – US: “Extraordinary” Conference After Russian Strikes on American-Supported Forces

The Pentagon said that US officials held an “extraordinary” video conference with Russian counterparts on Saturday, following Moscow’s airstrikes on American-supported forces in southeastern Syria. The Russian strikes hit the New Syrian Army on Thursday at the al-Tanf crossing on the Iraqi border.The NSA was formed last year and backed by the US to fight the Islamic State. The US and Britain have provided special forces, arms, and ammunition to the group.

Defense Department spokesman Peter Cook said Pentagon officials “expressed strong concerns about the attack”. The statement noted that the Russians attacked, even after the US sent its warplanes to the area, which “created safety concerns for US and coalition forces”.

US FA-18 fighters diverted to al-Tanf after the first of the two Russian strikes, calling on the Russians on an agreed channel but not receiving an answer. As soon as the US jets left the area to refuel, the Russians made another bomb run, attacking rescuers who had convened to help victims of the first attack.

Defense Secretary Ash Carter said the incidents raised questions about whether the Russians had intervened in Syria to fight extremists:

Here’s a case where they actually attacked forces that were fighting ISIL [the Islamic State]. And if that was their intention, that’s the opposite of what they said they were going to do. If not, then it says something about the quality of the information upon which they make airstrikes.