Two coalition personnel, including an American, were killed and five others wounded late on March 29, when a roadside bomb exploded in northern Syria, the U.S. military said Friday. While the military did not say where the attack took place or give the nationalities of the other casualties, it came hours after a local Syrian official said that a roadside bomb exploded in the Arab-Kurdish town of Manbij, not far from the border with Turkey.
A Department of Defense official in Washington said one of the two killed was an American service member and the other was of another nationality that the official would not specify. The killed American was the fourth US military member killed in Syria since the US became officially involved under the pretext of fighting ISIS in 2014.
Commenting on the attack, Charles Lister of the Middle East Institute said that "this is a *very* significant development " adding that "location (as yet undetermined) is key in determining perpetrator & implications" and as a result "we’re entering a new & dangerous phase."
2 US-led coalition troops killed & 5 wounded in IED attack in #Syria.— Charles Lister (@Charles_Lister) March 30, 2018
This is a *very* significant development - location (as yet undetermined) is key in determining perpetrator & implications. Either way, we’re entering a new & dangerous phase... pic.twitter.com/It68B8wTay
The U.S. military statement said the attack happened Thursday night and that the wounded were being evacuated for further medical treatment; details were being withheld for the time being pending further investigation.
According to AP, no other information about the deceased American was immediately available.
The U.S. soldier killed was the fourth American to fall in Syria since the U.S. began attacking Islamic State militants there in September 2014, according to the Pentagon's Defense Casualty Analysis System. Of the three previous deaths, Air Force Staff Sgt. Austin Bieren was specifically labeled by the Pentagon as a non-combat death. Another, Navy Senior Chief Petty Officer Scott C. Dayton, was killed by an improved explosive device. The third, Army Spc. Etienne J. Murphy, died in a vehicle rollover.
As we reported last week, Manbij is under threat of a Turkish military operation. Ankara says Syrian Kurdish militiamen it views as "terrorists" and an extension of Kurdish insurgents inside Turkey are in control of the town.
Earlier on Friday, U.S. military spokesman Col. Ryan Dillon couldn't immediately say who was behind the attack.
"There is an investigation under way to identify who they could possibly be. We have our initial assessment and thoughts on that but we won't provide until the investigation is complete," he said.
Dillon, who refused to give the nationalities of the dead or the location of the attack, said the coalition has had fatalities in Syria before. "Perhaps by different means but there have been coalition deaths in Syria over the course of three years."
Separately, Mohammed Abu Adel, head of the Manbij Military Council, an Arab-Kurdish group in the town backed by the U.S., said the bomb went off hundreds of meters (yards) from a security headquarters that houses the council just before midnight on Thursday.
As AP adds, Manbij "has seen a number of small explosions, protests and an assassination attempt on a member of the Manbij military council in recent weeks. Local officials blame Turkey and other adversaries for seeking to sow chaos in the town that was controlled by Islamic State group militants until the summer of 2016."
The death comes a month and a half after dozens of Russian mercenaries fighting on behalf of Syria's president Assad were killed by US forces; however that particular incident failed to escalate to a major diplomatic scandal. Should Syrian, or Russian, involvement even be suggested in Thursday's death, the diplomatic fallout will be dire as relations between the US and Russia - already at rock bottom level - sink even further.