Secretary of Defense James Mattis pledged to limit the involvement of the U.S. in Syria to anti-ISIS operations after a series of heightened tensions between the U.S., Syria and Iran.
“We just refuse to get drawn into the Syrian Civil War,” Mattis declared to reporters Monday, repeating a similar refrain from senior military officials. The U.S., however, has been involved in an increasing number of military confrontations with parties other than ISIS in June.
The U.S. Navy shot down a Syrian regime aircraft June 18 and engaged two other Iranian-made, pro-regime drones. The shoot-downs came during efforts by pro-Syrian regime forces to disrupt U.S. anti-ISIS operations in Syria. The incidents marked the first air-to-air engagements in years and all occurred within a single three week period, and drew sharp rebuke from Russia.
Pentagon officials defended the actions, saying the U.S. mission in Syria is limited to the defeat of ISIS and the support its partners. Officials emphasize that any action taken against a non-ISIS force is conducted in legitimate self defense of either U.S. personnel or backed forces.
Russia pledged to treat all U.S. aircraft in Syria west of the Euphrates as legitimate targets and to track them with air defense systems. Air Force Brig. Gen. Charles Corcoran recently confirmed to Military.com that Russia is carrying out its threat and tracking U.S. warplanes with surface to air missile batteries installed in Syria.
Hours after Mattis’s comments, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer issued a late Monday night warning to the Syrian regime not to use chemical weapons again.
The White House warned Assad that he would pay a “heavy price” after U.S. intelligence suggested that preparations for another chemical weapons attack were taking place. President Donald Trump previously ordered an April 7 cruise missile strike on one of Assad’s airfields after a sarin gas attack on civilians.
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