An extremely dangerous and rare incident played out in northeast Syria between the conflict’s two most powerful rival forces on Saturday when opposing American and Russian military convoys encountered each other on a highway.
The incident was filmed and published online by anti-Assad opposition group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), which described a major traffic jam outside the city of Al-Malikiyah, an oil-producing area of the country which has been occupied by American troops.
SOHR said the busy highway was halted “after US forces prevented a Russian patrol from continuing its way to countryside of Al-Malikiyah city.”
Though not precisely clear which convoy was the aggressor side from the video — or which caused the blockage — needless to say it was a tense and potentially explosive encounter given Moscow sees US presence in Syria as illegal and as an act of military aggression, while Washington in turn sees Russian troops as enemies bolstering Assad and Iran in the Middle East.
Other regional outlets, for example in Turkish media, also blamed the US side for maneuvering to block the Russian troops’ advance. Anadolu reports the Russian patrol was blocked from going near a key oil field in the area:
According to information Anadolu Agency obtained from reliable local sources, U.S. soldiers blocked a Russian military patrol en route to the oil field.
Tension occurred between the two groups, when U.S. soldiers asked Russian soldiers to return to the Amuda district in the northwest of Hasakah.
Russian soldiers had to return to where they came from as their way to Rumeylan, where the U.S. airbase is located, was blocked.
Russian patrols have reportedly stepped up operations in sensitive areas with US troops still stationed nearby, specifically in places like the region’s Rumeilan oil field, in Syria’s far northeast near the Iraq border.
Imagine how close this was to an international incident btwn nuclear armed great powers involving uniformed soldiers coming home in body bags.
This is NE Syria today. https://t.co/UQZFf3KaTw
— Mark Sleboda (@MarkSleboda1) January 18, 2020
Reporter for Voice of America news Mutlu Civiroglu noted Syrian Kurdish militia fighters intervened in order to ease tensions.
Meanwhile, Russia-based military analyst Mark Sleboda pointed out just how many things could have gone wrong in the tense encounter.
“Imagine how close this was to an international incident between nuclear armed great powers involving uniformed soldiers coming home in body bags,” he commented on Twitter.