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U.S. troops injured for 1st time in encounter with Russian forces in Syria

An image from video posted on Youtube by Russian media outlet Rusvesna shows U.S. and Russian armored vehicles driving in close proximity at speed during a tense encounter in eastern Syria on August 25, 2020.   

Washington — Russia on Thursday blamed the United States for a tense confrontation in Syria in which Russian military vehicles and helicopters surrounded U.S. armored vehicles, leaving U.S. troops injured. The White House National Security Council (NSC) said in a statement that a Russian vehicle struck a U.S. mine-resistant all-terrain vehicle, "causing injuries to the vehicle's crew."

A U.S. official told CBS News senior national defense correspondent David Martin that the Russian forces were operating inside a designated "security zone" that they had agreed to stay out of. 

There have been many encounters between Russian and U.S. forces on the ground in Syria and some have been tense, but the official told Martin the incident earlier this week was the first time American troops were injured in such a confrontation. Their injuries were minor, but the official called the Russian forces' actions "reckless."  

Russia moves in as U.S. forces pull out of Syria 02:26

Russia's defense ministry released a statement saying it had warned the U.S.-led anti-ISIS coalition in advance that a column of its military police would pass through.

"In spite of this, in breach of the existing agreements the U.S. troops attempted to block the Russian patrol," it said, adding that Russian military police took "necessary measures" to end the incident and carry on their mission.

The chief of the Russian General Staff, Valery Gerasimov, gave "full explanations" in a Wednesday phone call with General Mark Milley, the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Moscow said.

The U.S. military declined to comment on the call beyond confirming that it had taken place, saying both sides had "agreed to keep the specific details of their conversation private."

Videos shared on Twitter, apparently filmed by bystanders and the Russians themselves, appear to show Russian troop carriers and attack helicopters trying to box the U.S. vehicles in and then force them from the area, near Dayrick.

Vehicles appear to bump each other, and at one point one of the helicopters hovers very low over the halted Americans, blasting them with propeller wash.

National Security Council spokesman John Ullyot said the U.S. vehicles were a security patrol of the anti-ISIS coalition. He said the patrol departed the area to de-escalate the situation.

"Unsafe and unprofessional actions like this represent a breach of de-confliction protocols, committed to by the United States and Russia in December 2019," said Ullyot.

"The coalition and the United States do not seek escalation with any national military forces, but U.S. forces always retain the inherent right and obligation to defend themselves from hostile acts."

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