The US military has sent half a dozen armored vehicles on a 90-day mission to reinforce its troops in eastern Syria, less than a month after four US soldiers were injured during an altercation with Russian troops in the area.
The military said fewer than 100 soldiers would accompany the vehicles. There are currently less than 1,000 US troops in Syria, a number that has remained approximately the same since the end of the US military offensive that deprived the Islamic State [IS] of most of the territory in Syria.
Russia has deployed military forces to Syria in support of the Syrian regime, while US troops conduct joint patrols and operations with the Syrian Democratic Forces, a militia it backed in 2015 to fight against IS. The US and Russia have previously clashed with each other in Syria, such as a 2017 incident that led to the deaths of around 300 Russian military contractors.
“The United States does not seek conflict with any other nation in Syria, but will defend Coalition forces if necessary,” said Captain Bill Urban, a spokesman for the US military’s Central Command.
Also on Friday, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights urged Turkey to investigate war crimes committed by groups it backs in northern Syria.
Turkey began launching major military operations in 2016 in order to remove Syrian Kurdish militia groups, including the US-supported SDF, from areas they controlled along the Syrian-Turkish border.
Those operations included support for other Syrian militia factions, some of which the UN says are responsible for an "alarming pattern in recent months of grave violations,” including kidnappings, killings of civilians and unlawful transfers of people and property.
“I urge Turkey to immediately launch an impartial, transparent and independent investigation into the incidents we have verified, account for the fate of those detained and abducted by the affiliated armed groups and hold accountable those responsible for what may, in some instances, amount to crimes under international law, including war crimes,” UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said in a statement.
The Turkish government has denied the allegations. However, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the conflict, has consistently documented similar allegations to those being made by the UN. It has also documented potential war crimes committed by Turkey's opponents.