A U.S. aircraft shot down a pro-Syrian government drone after it fired upon a group of U.S.-led coalition forces in southeastern Syria on Thursday, the Pentagon said.
Col. Ryan Dillon, spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq and Syria, told reporters that no coalition forces were injured in the attack and that the drone’s munition struck “dirt.”
The incident marks a significant escalation around the Tanf border crossing, a vital link that connects Iraq and Syria. Iran considers the area — mostly made up of scrub and desert — part of an integral supply route that connects Tehran with Iraq, Lebanon and Syria. In the same area, U.S.-led Special Operations forces have been quietly training a small detachment of Syrian opposition fighters in anticipation of a broader campaign against the Islamic State in the Euphrates River Valley.
In recent weeks, however, pro-Syrian government forces — composed mostly of Iranian-backed Shiite militias — have steadily encroached on the small 200-strong garrison. In response, U.S. forces bolstered their defenses and conducted two strikes on the advancing government forces, one on May 18 and again Tuesday. The Pentagon labeled the airstrikes an act of self-defense after accusing the pro-Syrian government forces of entering a U.S.-established 34-mile wide deconfliction zone around the small base.
Dillon said that U.S. forces have communicated repeated warnings to the pro-government forces through a deconfliction line set up between the U.S. and Russian militaries in the region. Additionally, he said, U.S. aircraft have dropped thousands of leaflets over the contingents of government troops encamped in the desert around Tanf telling them to stop their advance and leave the area.
SOURCE: Thomas Gibbons-Neff
The Washington Post