In what has quickly become a trend, American bombers yet again struck pro-Assad militia forces stationed in Southern Syria on Thursday, this time hitting two armed pickup trucks, and later downing at least one unmanned aerial vehicle.
“U.S. conducted strikes against two technical vehicles that we were assessed to be posing a threat to Coalition forces at At-Tanf garrison,” tweeted Colonel Ryan Dillon, spokesman for Operation Inherent Resolve.
“Today was the third set of kinetic strikes the U.S. conducted in response to threats posed to Coalition forces operating out of At Tanf,” Dillon said in another tweet, referring to prior strikes carried out on May 18 and June 6. “The Coalition does not seek to fight Syrian regime or pro-regime forces. However, we remain ready to defend ourselves against any threat.”
The incident involved two episodes, first the bombing of two militia pickup trucks that approached a U.S. position, and hours later the downing of the drone by an American patrol.
Unlike the two previous strikes, the American patrol left the 55 km ceasefire zone encompassing the base near the border crossing in al-Tanf, where U.S. and British special forces train rebels for anti-ISIS operations.
Dillon said a drone belonging to the pro-Assad forces fired on American troops as they left the deconfliction zone; he dismissed the possibility that it was a warning shot, not intended to actually hit the patrol.
“This clearly showed a threat even if it were a warning shot; it was something that showed a hostile intent, a hostile action and posed a threat to our forces because this drone still had munitions that were still on it,” Dillon said.
The drone munition landed several hundred yards away from the coalition soldiers and failed to explode, one U.S. official told Reuters. It was reportedly the first time pro-Assad forces had fired on the coalition in the region, despite claims from U.S. military officials that the fighters posed a threat during the previous two strikes.
The U.S. military has warned Syrian fighters to stay away from its garrison, but the Syrian government does not recognize the deconfliction zones established by the U.S., which currently occupies Syria illegally, against the will of the country’s sovereign government. American officials previously said Russia approved the zone near al-Tanf, however after three separate instances of American hostility, Moscow’s attitude is souring.
Russia said on Wednesday that “unilaterally declared” ceasefire zones are now seen as “illegitimate.”
While Col. Dillon lamented the fact that the incidents take “focus away from fighting ISIS,” it appears that only the Americans are making that happen. The pro-Assad militias stationed near the U.S. garrison in al-Tanf are currently trying to link up with allied militia fighters in Iraq in order to secure a vital supply route. If secured, the route would give a boost to Assad in his fight against ISIS, but the U.S. appears ready to stop that from happening.
The U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) this week launched its assault to retake Raqqa, the defacto capital city of the Islamic State’s self-described caliphate. The Syrian government has a great interest in seeing Raqqa liberated, but with the recent clashes cooperation between the two camps is increasingly unlikely.
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