Airstrike wounds 6 U.S.-backed fighters in eastern Syria

Airstrike wounds 6 U.S.-backed fighters in eastern Syria
A Russian military helicopter flies in Syria's Dair Alzour province on Sept. 15, 2017. A U.S.-backed force in Syria said a Russian airstrike wounded six of its fighters on Sept. 16, 2017, near the city of Dair Alzour. (Associated Press)

A U.S.-backed force in Syria said a Russian airstrike wounded six of its fighters Saturday near the eastern city of Dair Alzour, while in southeastern Syria, government troops and their Iran-backed allies began a new offensive to capture areas along the Iraqi border under the cover of Russian airstrikes.

The command of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces said in a statement that Saturday's air raid occurred on the eastern side of the Euphrates River in the industrial area that was recently liberated from the militant group Islamic State.

The U.S. military said in a statement that Russian forces struck a target east of the Euphrates River near Dair Alzour, causing injuries to U.S.-led coalition partner forces.

“Russian munitions impacted a location known to the Russians to contain Syrian Democratic Forces and coalition advisors,” the statement said, adding that the wounded fighters received medical care after the strike.

It said that multinational coalition troops advising and assisting the Syrian Democratic Forces were present but not wounded as a result of the Russian strike.

“Coalition officials are available and the de-confliction line with Russia is open 24 hours per day,” said coalition commander Lt. Gen. Paul E. Funk II.

"We put our full efforts into preventing unnecessary escalation among forces” that consider “ISIS as our common enemy," he said, referring to Islamic State by an acronym.

"The coalition and its partners remain committed to the defeat of ISIS and continued de-confliction with Russian officials," the statement said. "Coalition forces and partners always retain the right of self-defense."

Syrian Democratic Forces fighters have been advancing against Islamic State militants on the east bank of the Euphrates while Syrian government forces and their allies are pushing on the western side against the extremists.

The march by the Syrian Democratic Forces aims to prevent Syrian troops and their allies from expanding their presence along the border with Iraq.

The air raid came as Syrian troops and their Iran-backed allies began a new offensive dubbed "Fajr 3", or "Dawn 3," that aims to capture areas along the border with Iraq in southeastern Syria under the cover of Russian airstrikes, according to a statement by the commander of Iran-backed fighters.

The statement of the unnamed commander was released on media arms of Lebanon's militant Hezbollah group that is a main force fighting alongside Syrian troops.

The commander said Syrian troops, along with fighters from Hezbollah, Afghanistan's Fatemiyoun, Pakistan's Zeinabiyoun and Iran will take part in the offensive that aims to reach the Syrian border town of Bukamal, a key stronghold of the extremists.

"The aim is to clear this wide and strategic area from the filth of Daesh fighters," the commander said, using an Arabic acronym for Islamic State. The eventual capture of the area all the way to Bukamal would boost Iran's influence in the region, which has succeeded in opening a narrow corridor linking areas controlled by its allies in Iraq and Syria all the way to the Mediterranean.

Washington has been determined to block the formation of an "Iranian corridor" — of Shiite-controlled land stretching from Tehran to Damascus — and has sped up the push by the Syrian Democratic Forces in Dair Alzour to try to block the road against Iran and its allies.

The announcement about the offensive in Syria came hours after an Iraqi military commander said troops have launched a multi-pronged operation to capture a town near the Syrian border from Islamic State.

Lt. Gen. Abdul-Amir Rasheed Yar Allah said the operation to retake Akashat aims to secure part of the border and the area north of the vital highway that links Baghdad to neighboring Jordan and Syria.

Akashat is a small town west of Anbar province located south of the Islamic State-held, strategic Iraqi towns of Qaim, Rawah and Anah.