On Sunday, the United States shot down a Syrian jet near Tabqa, Syria. The engagement between a United States military jet and Syrian air forces was the first air-to-air kill since Operation Allied Force in 1999, and could mark an escalation in U.S. involvement in the Syrian conflict.
U.S. Central Command asserted in a statement that the pro-Syrian regime forces had launched an attack on the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in a town south of Tabqa. The regime’s forces wounded a significant number of soldiers who retreated from the town. The initial attack was stymied by coalition aircraft. Later, a Syrian army SU-22 bomber dropped ordnance near the SDF which prompted the U.S. to shoot it down. The Pentagon’s statement declared:
In accordance with rules of engagement and in collective self-defense of Coalition partnered forces, [the Syrian plane] was immediately shot down by a U.S. F/A-18-E Super Hornet.
The coalition “contacted its Russian counterparts” to implement a “de-confliction line.” The objective was to de-escalate the situation.
This situation is likely to further aggravate the tensions in the region, which has seen escalation from several directions. Earlier in the day, Iran’s Revolutionary Guard launched missiles against ISIS in Syria in retaliation for the recent terrorist attack in Tehran.
The Syrian army also released a statement. From Reuters:
The flagrant attack was an attempt to undermine the efforts of the army as the only effective force capable with its allies … in fighting terrorism across its territory. This comes at a time when the Syrian army and its allies were making clear advances in fighting the Daesh (Islamic State) terrorist group.
The Pentagon’s statement said that the U.S. has no desire to fight with the Syrian regime’s forces – our target is ISIS. However, officials also emphasized that the U.S. will not tolerate threats to its allies in Syria.
The incident took place two months after President Donald Trump ordered a missile strike on a Syrian airbase in response to the Syrian regime’s use of chemical weapons. The president repeatedly criticized former President Barack Obama for failing to resolve the Syrian conflict and giving rise to the Islamic State, also known as ISIS.
Although he has pledged to eliminate ISIS, President Trump has stated that he does not intend to become further involved in the Syrian civil war. So far, the United States has limited itself to carrying out strikes when necessary and helping the SDF in their fight against ISIS. It is not yet known how the downing of the Syrian jet will impact the United States’ role in Syria. However, it is clear that President Trump is willing to use force when it is needed. The only question at this point is how far he — and Syria — are willing to go.