United States jets bomb pro-government Syria forces advancing on militant base

Another US official said the jets carried out "shows of force" in the skies above the tank convoy and fired warning shots before bombing the lead vehicles, which were moving to within 27 kilometers of the garrison.

The strikes hit in a "deconfliction zone" where British and U.S. commandos were training and advising local forces fighting the so-called "Islamic State".

While officials stressed the defensive strike did not signal deepening U.S. involvement in Syria's civil war, it nonetheless raises questions about the ongoing feasibility for the coalition to maintain its singular focus on the Islamic State group.

In a statement, the US-led coalition said it had struck "pro-regime forces. that posed a threat to United States of America and partner forces".

The Pentagon said it had been operating in the Al-Tanf area for months training partner forces to battle IS.

The development comes only a few days after US-led jets killed almost two dozen civilians in an attack on an area in Syria's eastern province of Dayr al-Zawr near the border with Iraq.

That is a broad category that could include Lebanese Hezbollah, Iranian forces and militia and irregular Syrian forces known as shabiha. A road between Iraq and Syria would facilitate the flow of assistance from Iran, which strongly supports Assad.

"They were Iranian-directed troops" who attempted to breach a designated deconfliction zone near the southern Syrian town of At Tanf, which is home to USA training camp for moderate Syrian militias battling the Islamic State, Mr. Mattis told reporters Friday.

The pro-regime convoy had come within 18 miles the al-Tanf base, which houses USA and British special forces in southern Syria, and breached the "deconfliction zone" around the base.

"They were potentially probing to see how close they could get to al Tanf", an anonymous United States official said. Coalition forces even reached out to Russian counterparts, via the standing deconfliction channel between the two militaries, in order to halt the Iranian force advancing into the zone, command officials say.

It is unclear yet whether the strikes have killed any Syrian soldiers or pro-government militia fighters as there has been no official comment from Damascus so far.

Syria also condemned the strike as a "brazen attack" and said it would "not be intimidated" after the surprise assault.

Speaking to reporters, U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said the U.S. will defend its troops in case of "aggressive" steps against them. It added that "the Americans have no right to specify in which direction the Syrian army moves since it owns the land and has the right to spread the country's sovereignty on all the land".

Before the US strikes on Assad's forces.

The first official said the convoy was "significant" in size, but only the lead vehicles were hit.

  • Leroy Wright