US-led coalition jets carried out an airstrike on Thursday in Syria against a militia supported by the regime that ignored warnings and posed a threat to US-backed fighters in the country’s south, said the spokesman of the coalition.
“The coalition warned pro-regime forces advancing in a de-escalation zone near At Tanf. Even Russia tried to dissuade the militia from advancing toward At Tanf,” said Army Col. Ryan Dillon, spokesman for Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR) being carried out by the coalition. “The coalition forces have been operating in the At Tanf area for many months, training and advising vetted partner forces,” Dillon added.
One US official said the strikes near the town of At Tanf destroyed at least one tank and a bulldozer. Another official said the strikes followed warning shots by US aircraft meant to dissuade the fighters from advancing any further.
Jordanian political analyst Faisal Malkawi told Arab News that the US base in At Tanf was established to thwart Iran’s plans to keep an open route for its forces in Iraq to sustain logistical support to its militias in Syria.
“Furthermore, with the military operations against Daesh in Iraq nearing the end, the coalition is reinforcing its presence on the ground in Syria to stop the terrorist group from entering Syria,” Malkawi said.
He said Jordan has repeatedly issued warnings against the pro-Syrian regime militias and Iranian forces coming near its border. “Jordan has warned it will take action if those forces pose any serious threat to its security.”
He added: “For the past two years, Jordan has been securing both sides of its borders with Syria by training tribal and moderate forces from Syria to counter the terrorist groups and prevent them from coming near the border. However, as part of the US-led coalition, the Jordanian air force has also been conducting sorties and strikes on several targets in Syria.”
Muzahem Al-Saloum from the Maghawir Al-Thawra group told Reuters that the jets struck after some opposition forces clashed with Syrian and Iranian militias after they had advanced to about 27 km from the base.
“We notified the coalition that we were being attacked by the Syrian Army and Iranians at this point, and the coalition came and destroyed the advancing convoy,” Al-Saloum said.
The Pentagon did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Since they appeared defensive in nature, Thursday’s strikes did not suggest a shift in the US military’s focus in Syria, which has been on battling Daesh militants.
Still, the strikes would be the first against fighters aligned with Syria’s regime since the US waged cruise missile strikes on a Syrian air base in April.
The April strikes were ordered in retaliation for a chemical weapons attack that Washington blamed on Damascus, and were described as a one-off measure to deter any future chemical weapons use.
By May 17, the US and coalition forces had conducted a total of 21,495 strikes (12,689 in Iraq, 8,806 in Syria), according to figures released by the US Department of Defense.
The US conducted 17,099 strikes in Iraq and Syria (8,690 in Iraq and 8,409 in Syria) while the rest of the coalition conducted 4,396 strikes (3,999 in Iraq and 397 in Syria).