Syrian pro-government forces in the southern part of the country were targeted Thursday by a U.S.-led coalition airstrike, Fox News has reported. The strike was ordered by a commander on the ground after militia forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad entered an area described as a “well-established deconfliction zone.”
A Pentagon official, who has not yet been named, stated: “There is no change in policy.” After an initial show of force had failed to turn back the militia units, the airstrike was carried out for the purposes of “force protection.”
According to an Associated Press source, militia troops were approximately thirty-five miles from a coalition base that houses U.S. military advisers and appeared to be preparing to launch an attack. It has not been confirmed that the base itself, near Syria’s border with Jordan, had been targeted, although the militia units were reported to be moving in a convoy toward the base.
According to the Pentagon official, Russia – which is backing the Syrian president in the civil war – attempted to contact the infringing units and U.S. aircraft “conducted warning shots.” When these attempts at deterrence failed, the airstrike was ordered.
U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis commented on the action, during a meeting with his Swedish counterpart. “We’re not increasing our role in the Syrian civil war,” Mattis said, “but we will defend our troops…if people take aggressive steps against us.”
In a reversal of Obama-era policy, U.S. commanders in the field have been given autonomy to initiate tactical operations without having to request authorization from the Pentagon and wait for a green light. Unlike the Tomahawk missile attack on the Shayrat airbase – which targeted structures and aircraft – this appears to be the first U.S. airstrike to target personnel troops since Donald Trump became President.
A deconfliction zone is not the same thing as a ‘safe-zone.’ The purpose of deconfliction is to avoid unintended clashes or collisions of aircraft or other military assets; safe-zones – which have been proposed for Syria – are areas designated for the protection of refugees and other civilians. Their effectiveness is disputed, particularly since the Balkan War of the mid-90s, when United Nations forces failed to protect Bosnian civilians from Serbian paramilitary units. The resulting massacre, in the Bosnian city of Srebrenica, raised grave concerns about establishing such areas.
The civil war in Syria has now been raging for six years and has claimed more than 400,000 lives. President Bashar al-Assad, supported by Russia, Iran, and Syrian Shia militias, is fighting a coalition of rebel forces. Additionally, the Islamic State (ISIS) controls territory in Syria. U.S. efforts in Syria have largely been aimed at defeating ISIS, although Special Operations forces continue to train the rebels and their Syrian Kurdish allies.
As always, Liberty Nation will keep you updated on this story as details become available.