• A US-Russian military vehicle crash that injured four American troops in Syria alarmed both Republicans and Democrats, leading many to issue a joint statement.
  • Democratic Rep. Seth Moulton of Massachusetts told Insider President Donald Trump is to blame for rapidly exiting the region and leaving only a small force to confront the numerically larger Russian force.
  • James Phillips, a senior research fellow at The Heritage Foundation, described the latest clash as a culmination of competing interests.
  • “This is likely to continue until the Russians see that this incurs more costs than benefits for them,” Phillips told Insider.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

A US-Russian military vehicle crash that injured four American troops in eastern Syria alarmed both Republicans and Democrats, leading many of them to come together to issue a rare joint statement condemning the Kremlin’s “aggression” in the region.

“We are appalled by reports of Russian military aggression toward US troops on the ground in Syria and strongly condemn their actions,” ten House Armed Service Committee lawmakers wrote in a joint statement. “We strongly urge Russian forces to stop these aggressive behaviors immediately.”

“It is critical that officials at the Pentagon and the White House also clearly communicate to the highest levels of the Russian government and military that actions like this will not be tolerated,” the statement added.

Democratic Rep. Seth Moulton of Massachusetts, a former Marine Corps infantry officer, told Insider that President Donald Trump was to blame for leaving only a small group of US troops in Syria to face a much larger Russian force.

"First, President Trump abandoned our service men and women in Syria and handed control over to the Russians. Then, Russia paid the Taliban to kill US troops in Afghanistan, and Trump was silent," Moulton told Insider, referring to Trump's drawdown from Syria earlier in 2019 and the news reports of Russia's intelligence service paying Taliban-linked insurgents for bounties against US troops.

"Now Russia is intentionally crashing into and injuring US soldiers," Moulton added. "The president is not saving any lives or trying to get us out of endless wars, he's getting Americans killed because of his total recklessness and ineptitude."

Republican Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, an Air National Guard officer, called the incident "disturbing" in a tweet directed at Putin and said it was "not a game you will win."

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Foto: Turkish and Russian troops patrol through Idlib province, Syria, March 15, 2020. Source: Turkish Defense Ministry via AP

The blame game

The vehicle crash occured at around 10 a.m. local time on Tuesday. Video footage of the incident on social media showed two vehicles colliding after Russian armored vehicles drove towards a moving US mine-resistant ambush protected all-terrain vehicle (M-ATV).

In a statement from the National Security Council, a spokesman said US forces were conducting a "routine ... security patrol" when they were met with the Russian force's "unsafe and unprofessional action."

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

Meanwhile, Russian officials blamed their American counterparts.

"In violation of the existing agreements, the US troops attempted to block the Russian patrol," the Russian Defense Ministry said in a statement, according to the Associated Press. "In response to that, the Russian military police took the necessary measures to prevent an incident and to continue the fulfillment of their task."

Roughly 500 US service members are officially deployed to Syria as part of its continued campaign against ISIS militants in the region. But Trump, in addition to US defense officials, have added that US forces were deployed in an effort to protect oil fields from ISIS, the Syrian regime, Iran, and other destabilizing actors.

Russia, an ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, continues to operate in the country and began providing military assistance to the embattled dictator's forces in 2015.

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Foto: A US military convoy drives near the town of Qamishli, north Syria, October 26. 2019. Source: Baderkhan Ahmad/AP

'This is likely to continue'

US and Russian-linked forces have come to blows in the past. In 2018, hundreds of Syrian troops and Russian-government linked mercenaries were killed or injured after the US conducted airstrikes and artillery strikes in eastern Syria. US officials have alleged that waves of Syrian troops and tanks had advanced and fired on their location, forcing them to act in self-defense.

James Phillips, a senior research fellow at The Heritage Foundation, described the latest clash as a culmination of competing interests between Russia and the US.

"This is another long line of incidents that the Russians have provoked, and it demonstrates the degree to which US and Russians clash," Phillips told Insider. "I think it's a manifestation of how the Russians are trying to create incidents to undermine US influence and access to the region. I think ultimately they'd like to deprive US forces of their supply route to Iraq by taking over roads."

According to Phillips, Russia's actions are another attempt to make a "political point that US forces there are spread thin, and likely will not be staying that long."

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, US Army Gen. Mark Milley, held a phone call with his counterpart, Gen. Valery Gerasimov, on Wednesday following the incident. Details of the call were not made public after both generals agreed to keep the discussion private.

Despite the deconfliction efforts by senior military officials, further action by State Department leaders or the White House may be required in order to prevent future clashes in Syria, according to Phillips.

"This is likely to continue until the Russians see that this incurs more costs than benefits for them," Phillips told Insider.