“Unsafe and unprofessional actions like this represent a breach of de-confliction protocols, committed to by the United States and Russia in December 2019,” Ullyot said in a statement, which did not indicate how many Americans were injured. “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 hostiles acts.”
Video apparently recorded by Russian forces and circulated widely on social media on Wednesday showed American and Russian military vehicles flying the flags of their respective nations and speeding through an open field. A Russian military vehicle rams an American vehicle, as at least one Russian helicopter flies low nearby.
The U.S. military has since settled into a smaller role still aimed at countering the Islamic State but has increasingly encountered Russian forces collaborating with the Syrian government.
Air Force Maj. Gen. Kenneth P. Ekman, the deputy commander of the counter-Islamic State operation in Iraq and Syria, told reporters at the Pentagon last month that American and Russian military forces come into contact almost daily. Russian and American forces are pursuing their own interests and “those interests aren’t quite aligned,” he said.
“Our goal is to maintain, both in the air and on the ground, sufficient deconfliction between Russian forces and coalition forces to reduce the chance of any sort of a miscalculation,” Ekman said. “There’s a whole series of protocols that enables this deconfliction.”
The situation is sensitive in light of tensions between Washington and Moscow, and reports this year that Russia was offering money to Taliban members in Afghanistan to attack U.S. troops. While Trump has dismissed such reports as “fake news,” Pentagon officials have said they are concerned about the possibility, even if they don’t have enough information to corroborate it.
The Defense Department was slow on Wednesday to confirm the latest altercation, which was first reported by Politico. U.S. military officials overseeing operations in the Middle East referred questions on Wednesday to the Pentagon, which in turn referred questions to the White House.
Brett McGurk, who served as a presidential envoy working on Syria policy for Trump and President Barack Obama, said on Twitter on Wednesday that Trump needs to address the issue with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“Russian military forces are ramming and injuring US troops in Syria,” McGurk tweeted. “No competent [commander in chief] would leave our troops in this position.”