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US-backed Forces in Syria Say Russians Attacked Their Position

Displaced Syrians from Deir el-Zour head to refugee camps on the outskirts of Raqa on Sept. 24, 2017, as Syrian fighters backed by U.S. special forces battle to clear the last remaining Islamic State group jihadists holed up in their crumbling stronghold.

U.S.-backed forces in Syria's eastern Deir el-Zour province say Russian forces struck their position in a field recently captured from Islamic State militants.

Fighters with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) said a Russian attack killed one of their fighters and wounded two others Monday in the Conoco natural gas field, which was taken from Islamic State fighters over the weekend. Russia has denied the report.

Counter-Islamic State coalition spokesman U.S. Army Col. Ryan Dillon told VOA that initial reports could not confirm whether there were any casualties. The indirect surface-to-surface fire, he said, was believed to have come from either Syrian or Russian forces.

Oil-and-gas rich province

The coalition contacted the Russian military "immediately after the impact" via an established communications line used for deconflicting air and ground operations in Syria, Dillon said.

When asked by reporters whether the deconfliction line was "working well" in Syria, Pentagon spokesman Army Col. Robert Manning told reporters Monday that "there is always room for improvement … but they are effective."

"Deconfliction is important. It is a very busy battlefield there," he added.

The possibility for conflict between the two groups has increased as both sides work to defeat Islamic State in the oil-and-gas rich province.

Not the first time

Monday was not the first time that coalition-backed forces have accused Russia and Syria of targeting them in Deir el-Zour province, where Russian-backed Syrian troops are waging a separate offensive against the extremists.

Earlier this month, the Pentagon said Russia bombed a position east of the Euphrates River where it knew SDF fighters and coalition advisers were stationed. The jets did not injure coalition forces, but the SDF said six of its fighters were wounded in the strike.