US Defense Secretary James Mattis on Sunday said that the US-led coalition is not worried about Syrian government attacks on the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), suggesting the US could easily defend itself in northern Syria.
Last week, the US-led coalition killed over 100 Assad loyalist fighters after they attacked the Syrian Democratic Forces headquarters in Deir ez-Zor province, near oil fields on 7 February.
In Deir ez-Zor, where both the Assad Government and the Syrian Democratic Forces are fighting against IS, there is an agreed upon deconfliction lines to prevent the two forces from clashing. The 100 pro-Syrian government fighters are believed to have crossed that line.
“The Regime forces and their allies who crossed over their boundaries in Deir ez-Zor have been disciplined,” Polat Can, a SDF commander said after the regime attack was rebuffed.
The US strikes also killed Ashraf Nawaf al-Bashir, a member of the pro-Iranian Baqir brigade, and son of tribal leader Nawaf Bashir who defected from the opposition to the regime some years ago.
“And to us, no, it's not a concern right now. We're watching it. Why do I say it's not a concern? We're quite capable of rebuffing them. It's perplexing why they would do it,” Mattis said.
“They have nothing to gain by fighting us. There's ISIS to be fought. It doesn't make sense, and I think that's probably why the Russians, too, at least appear to be perplexed by it,” he added.
Moreover, the US official suggested there were no Russians there, countering reports of Russians that were allegedly killed.
“The deconfliction communication line with Russia is constantly used. We keep each other informed. The Russians profess that they were not aware when we called about that force that had crossed, and it came closer,” he said.
“They were notified when the firing began. That's when we heard there were no Russians there. And we go out of our way to ensure that we do not endanger the Russians, as you know,” he said.
“And so when we took them under fire, that's when they began the indirect fire, the artillery fire. We went after them,” the official said.
Moreover, the US Defence Secretary confirmed US forces were present at the SDF base.
“We did have Americans at the position with the SDF headquarters there. We responded and stopped the incursion. That force retreated back to the west side of the river,” he added.
“The Russians told us they had no forces there initially. I think that's still the case, but we don't have full clarity on what the regime forces are doing there. But for right now, at least at this moment, it's calm,” he concluded.