ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – American officials and a Syrian rights body has denied claims made by the Russian government as it ramped up its narrative this week against the US-backed forces in northeastern Syria, with the aim to undermine their presence after the US decided to extend their stay in the war-torn country.
“Now, we see what is happening on the left bank of the Euphrates. Probably, our colleagues know: this territory is under the patronage of our American partners. They rely on the Kurdish armed forces,” Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday, during the Valdai conference in Sochi.
“But they have obviously left a loose end: [the Islamic State (IS)] remains in several locations and has begun to expand its area of influence recently. They took 130 families hostage – almost 700 people,” he asserted, adding that the jihadists were threatening to kill ten people every day and claiming they had “US and EU citizens” captives.
Last week, IS attacked a refugee camp near the town of al-Bahra, taking advantage of a dust storm to kidnap several civilians. Statements by US officials, however, refuted those numbers.
“While we have confirmed that there was an attack on an IDP camp near Deir al-Zor last week, we have no information to suggest the large numbers alleged are correct, and we are skeptical as to their accuracy,” US Army Colonel Sean Ryan, Spokesperson for Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR), told Kurdistan 24.
“We are also unaware of any US nationals located in that camp,” he added.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) on Friday also rejected the Russian claims but confirmed 130 families were taken by IS, including 90 women.
“The news from the Russian sources about the presence of American nationals among the people abducted by IS from al-Bahra camp is completely false,” the SOHR said.
“The camp contained women and children mostly from Russian and other nationalities of the former Soviet Union, as well as Iraqi nationality, and reliable sources confirmed that if any residents of the camp were of American nationality, the Coalition forces would have transferred them to other places,” SOHR added.
Russian government spokesperson for the Foreign Ministry, Maria Zakharova, on Wednesday had asserted that IS had captured “several hundred civilians who had been abandoned by Kurdish forces.”
“Most of the hostages originally came from towns on the eastern bank of the Euphrates River,” she claimed.
“US forces support Kurdish units in a rather strange, unprofessional, and clumsy manner. Quite often, the indiscriminate and violent US actions do not yield the desired results,” she argued.
Nicholas A. Heras, a Middle East security analyst at the Washington-based Center for a New American Security, told Kurdistan 24, that the Russians are worried about the continued US presence in the northeast of Syria.
“The Russians are beginning to the feel the pressure of the US policy, which is to stay in Syria indefinitely. This means that the Russians no longer view the [Syrian Democratic Forces] SDF as a potential asset, and instead as a tool for the Americans to stay in Syria at a relatively low cost for years. The SDF is now a focus of Russia’s shadow war in Syria,” he concluded.
Editing by Nadia Riva