US Officials Feel ‘Challenged’ by Russia in Northeast Syria

Run-ins with Russian troops increasingly common in the area

The 500 US ground troops that remain in Syria, according to President Trump purely to control the oil, are finding themselves less and less welcome in Syria’s northeast, and officials are presenting Russia as presenting them a constant set of challenges to stay.

The challenges appear to be largely of America’s own making, with troops going on patrol into the area finding themselves having run-ins with Russian troops. The Pentagon says Russia is violating a pledge to keep US and Russian troops apart, but with Trump arguing the US is only there for the oil, it’s not clear that there’s a reason for the US troops to go on walkabouts in the Turkish-controlled border region, where Russian troops are known to be.

The most recent problem was in the city of Qamishli, where a US patrol happened on a Syrian government checkpoint. They weren’t welcome, unsurprisingly, and locals started mocking the US troops, and some threw stones. This pretty quickly escalated into a small arms exchange, with the US killing one civilian.

Russians were present for the incident, and documented it, adding to the embarrassment. The US troops shooting the civilian was the embarrassing thing, however, just to be clear. That Russia was there is a secondary matter, and this clearly wasn’t Russia’s fault.

Since the US is militarily hostile toward the Syrian government much of the time, it’s not surprising they’d call Russia to help them protect their checkpoint. These potential flashpoints are likely to continue so long as the US keeps its troops, uninvited, in Syria, and the Pentagon is clearly determined to blame Russia whenever anything happens.

Author: Jason Ditz

Jason Ditz is Senior Editor for He has 20 years of experience in foreign policy research and his work has appeared in The American Conservative, Responsible Statecraft, Forbes, Toronto Star, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Providence Journal, Washington Times, and the Detroit Free Press.