US Service Members Injured in Skirmish with Russian Troops in Syria

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In this Wednesday, April 4, 2018 file photo, a U.S. soldier, left, sits on an armored vehicle behind a sand barrier at a newly installed position near the front line between the U.S-backed Syrian Manbij Military Council and the Turkish-backed fighters, in Manbij, north Syria. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)
In this Wednesday, April 4, 2018 file photo, a U.S. soldier, left, sits on an armored vehicle behind a sand barrier at a newly installed position near the front line between the U.S-backed Syrian Manbij Military Council and the Turkish-backed fighters, in Manbij, north Syria. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)

U.S. service members were injured after a Russian vehicle rammed into a U.S. convoy in northeast Syria earlier this week, the White House's National Security Council confirmed Wednesday afternoon.

Citing an internal draft document from the Pentagon, Politico first reported Wednesday that four troops suffered mild concussion-like symptoms after the incident.

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Multiple videos that surfaced on social media show U.S. and Russian vehicles in close proximity, each group trying to convince the other convoy to disperse. A video from the Russian troops -- posted via RusVesna.Su, a Russian website, and then re-posted on Twitter -- shows U.S. forces attempting to block the Russian forces' path until they veer off into a field. Then, a U.S. Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle (MRAP) appears to collide with a Russian vehicle as Russian helicopters fly overhead.

In the internal document, U.S. Central Command said the Russian vehicles unsafely pursued the U.S. convoy, according to the Politico report.

White House National Security Council spokesman John Ullyot confirmed in a statement that the Aug. 25 incident occurred in the region at 10 a.m. local time.

"During this interaction, a Russian vehicle struck a Coalition Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected All-Terrain Vehicle (M-ATV) causing injuries to the vehicle's crew," Ullyot said.

The defeat-ISIS security coalition patrol departed the area, he said, "to de-escalate the situation."

Ullyot added, "Unsafe and unprofessional actions like this represent a breach of de-confliction protocols, committed to by the United States and Russia in December 2019. The Coalition and the United States do not seek escalation with any national military forces, but U.S. forces always retain the inherent right and obligation to defend themselves from hostile acts."

The report comes a month after the deputy commander of the joint force tasked with defeating the Islamic State, Air Force Maj. Gen. Kenneth Ekman, downplayed reports of hostile encounters between U.S. and Russian troops in Syria.

"What you might call harassment, which is, you know, less than absolute professional conduct between the Russians and the U.S., occurs on rare occasions," Ekman told reporters during a Pentagon briefing in July. "By and large, what we find is that the Russians abide by the protocols that we put in place. They abide by the rules of the road, if you will, that occur at the tactical level between our convoys. And it's very rare that a misunderstanding triggers some higher emotions or some sort of harassment between the two sets of forces."

There have been a number of close calls since Russia deployed forces and aircraft to Syria in 2015, changing the dynamic among U.S. and coalition troops who began their air campaign against ISIS a year earlier.

In 2017, two U.S. F-22 Raptor stealth fighters intercepted two Russian Su-25 fighter jets over Syria. The American aircraft fired warning flares and, in one instance, had to maneuver aggressively to avoid a collision with the Russian planes. A Russian Su-35 multi-role fighter was also involved.

Then, in Feb. 2018, a U.S. MQ-9 Reaper drone took out a Soviet-made T-72 tank in eastern Syria in a "self-defense" strike after pro-regime forces fired on U.S. advisers and allied Syrian fighters. That same month, U.S. fighter jets fired on hundreds of alleged Russian mercenaries -- fighting on behalf of President Bashar al-Assad -- who were believed to have attacked U.S.-backed Syrian Defense Forces in Deir el-Zour Province.

Russia's foreign ministry at the time said some of its citizens died in the strike, but would not confirm they were contractors operating on behalf of the state.

This story has been updated with confirmation of the incident.

-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana0214.

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