BEIRUT — A U.S.-backed force in Syria said a Russian airstrike wounded six of its fighters Saturday near the eastern city of Deir el-Zour while in southeast Syria, Syrian troops and their Iran-backed allies began a new offensive aiming to capture areas along the Iraq 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 Islamic State group.

The U.S. military said in a statement that Russian forces struck a target east of the Euphrates River near Deir el-Zour 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 advisers,” the statement said, adding that the wounded SDF fighters received medical care following the strike.

It said that multinational coalition troops advising and assisting the SDF 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 share ISIS as our common enemy,” said Funk using an acronym to refer to IS.

“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.”

SDF fighters have been advancing against IS fighters 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 SDF 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 southeast 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 Fatimiyoun, Pakistan’s Zeinabiyoun and Iranian fighters will take part in the offensive that aims to reach the Syrian border town of Boukamal that is a main 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 to refer to IS. The eventual capture of the area all the way to Boukamal would boost Iran’s influence in the region, which has succeed 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 SDF in Deir el-Zour 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 IS.

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 IS-held, strategic Iraqi towns of Qaim, Rawa and Ana.

Author photo
BASSEM MROUE
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