At least two British special forces soldiers were injured in an Islamic State attack in eastern Syria, according to media and social media reports.
The incident is believed to have occurred in al-Shafah in Deir Ezzor province near the Iraq border, where the U.S.-led Coalition-backed Syrian Democratic Forces is fighting ISIS in the last areas east of the Euphrates river under the jihadists’ control. The predominantly Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) forms the backbone of the multi-ethnic SDF alliance.
“Due to a smart missile attack by ISIS, a fighter of the YPG was killed and another wounded, in addition to two British soldiers,” an SDF official told Kurdistan Region of Iraq-based Rudaw, adding that the British soldiers were in a stable condition.
Local fixer Kamiran Sadoun tweeted that he was in a field hospital in nearby al-Omar where up to seven British soldiers were treated after an ISIS attack al-Shafah.
Sadoun told Kurdistan 24 he met two injured SDF fighters at the hospital who said they were with “five to seven” injured British soldiers.
Other reports said that two Syrian fighters were injured and neither had died.
The Coalition not yet responded to a request for comment.
SDF spokesperson Mustafa Bali tweeted that “heavy clashes” were ongoing after an ISIS attack “on one of our points” in Deir Ezzor.
The “smart missile” referred to in the Rudaw report is likely to have been an anti-tank guided missile, which are commonly used in Syria.
The injured British troops are likely to be members of the elite Special Air Service, which is believed to be operating in Syria, but the U.K. Ministry of Defence does not comment on special forces.
The first acknowledged British casualty in the fight against ISIS was special operations service member Sergeant Matt Tonroe, who was killed in an IED explosion in March 2018 in Manbij.
U.S. Army Special Operations Command’s Master Sergeant Johnathan J. Dunbar was also killed in the blast, and five other Coalition personnel were injured.
Tonroe was part of the Sniper Platoon of the 3rd Battalion the Parachute Regiment, and he had deployed numerous times on operations to Afghanistan and the Middle East, the MoD said.
The Parachute Regiment provides a significant proportion of SAS recruits, and some defense journalists have reported that Tonroe was an SAS member.
In December, President Donald Trump announced U.S. forces would withdraw from Syria, prompting a frantic scramble by U.S. officials who raced to inform Syrian partners and ‘shocked’ Coalition allies.
The MoD later said that the U.K. “will continue to work with members of the coalition” to deny ISIS territory and “ensure its enduring defeat, working alongside our critical regional partners in Syria and beyond.”