A clash betweenreportedly left at least one Syrian dead on Monday — a on a battlefield confused by a surplus of foreign intervening forces in the protracted civil war. The U.S.-led military coalition in Syria denied reports that an American service member was wounded in the incident near a Syrian air base, and that the coalition had carried out an airstrike during the clash.
An independent war monitoring organization and Syrian state media spoke only of Syrian casualties.
The incident occurred Monday south of Qamishli, a city in northern Syria near the Turkish border, when Syrian troops refused to allow a U.S. patrol to cross a checkpoint near Qamishli air base, according to the Syrian regime and the independent Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) war monitoring group.
In a brief statement, the U.S.-led military coalition said the clash had occurred after the patrol passed through the checkpoint, when the forces "came under small arms fire from individuals in the vicinity of the checkpoint." The coalition forces returned fire but did not sustain any casualties, according to the statement.
Videos posted to social media appeared to confirm reports of an exchange of gunfire between the Syrian forces at the checkpoint and U.S. troops.
Both SOHR and Syrian state media said the American forces called in helicopter gunships that struck the checkpoint, leaving casualties among regime soldiers. State news agency SANA said one soldier was killed and two wounded after "an American patrol tried to enter the area of the deployment of one of our combat formations in the countryside of the city of Qamishli."
It said the troops turned the U.S. forces back, but "half an hour later, two American helicopters attacked the checkpoint with heavy machine guns, which left one soldier dead and two others wounded."
SOHR said two Syrian troops had been killed.
The U.S. military command rejected the claim of an airstrike, however, without further explanation. The statement from "Operation Inherent Resolve" said simply that the patrol "returned to base" after the gunfight, and that an investigation had been launched.
SOHR said it was the first deadly clash involving the myriad foreign forces in Syria in six months, but tension in the northern part of the country has been high. Along with the Russian backed Syrian state forces and Russian troops, Kurdish fighters, Turkish-backed militias, and the U.S. military all operate in the area.
Confrontations like the one that lead to the clash on Monday have occurred regularly in the region for months, with U.S. patrols coming into contact with Syrian forces and their Russian counterparts, but they have largely been resolved without deadly force.