U.S. launches rare intentional strike on pro-government forces in Syria

Residents walk through damaged streets at the mountain resort town of Zabadani in the Damascus countryside, in Syria, May 18. (Hassan Ammar/AP)
Residents walk through damaged streets at the mountain resort town of Zabadani in the Damascus countryside, in Syria, May 18. (Hassan Ammar/AP)

American aircraft struck a convoy of troops loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Thursday, in a rare direct assault by the United States on forces affiliated with the Syrian government.

Assad’s government had no immediate response to the incident, which occurred in far southern Syria near an area where American Special Operations forces are working with local fighters.

A defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss details of an overseas operation, said that U.S. aircraft struck a convoy of several dozen vehicles, including a small number of tanks, that were advancing toward a U.S.-occupied garrison in Tanf, along the Syria-Iraq border.

“This action was taken after apparent Russian attempts to dissuade Syrian pro-regime movement south towards [Tanf] were unsuccessful,” a Pentagon statement said.

U.S. officials said the vehicles were slowly advancing within a 30-mile ground and air exclusion zone that the United States has established around Tanf.

Before the attack, the aircraft conducted a show of force by flying by the convoy and fired warning shots, the official said. The Syrian fighters “did not choose to turn away,” the official said.

The strike destroyed four to five vehicles, including several construction vehicles and at least one tank, and appeared to have killed those inside, the official said. U.S. officials said they were unsure whether the forces in the convoy were Syrian army troops or members of militia groups who fight on the government’s behalf.

Salim Zahran, an analyst close to the Syrian government, said that U.S. planes targeted a Syrian army battalion in the Shahma area, 40 miles from the Tanf border area. He said the strike, which destroyed tanks and four-wheel-drive vehicles, killed eight soldiers from the 13th Battalion.

Zahran suggested reports that foreign militiamen were among the dead were incorrect.

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SOURCE: Missy Ryan 
The Washington Post